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New Zealand rugby
All Blacks groom apprentice hookers
August 19, 2013

New Zealand's search for their next Test hooker has ramped up in importance after Test veteran Andrew Hore revealed he wants to negotiate an extended break.

Hore, 34, says he would like to follow a similar path to All Blacks captain Richie McCaw this year and five-eighth Dan Carter next year by taking time away from rugby. Flanker McCaw returned to Test action impressively in Saturday's 47-29 win over Australia in Sydney.

His break lasted six months, spanning most of the Super Rugby season and the June home Tests, something Carter will mirror in 2014. Centre Conrad Smith will miss the season-ending tour of Japan and Europe.

Hore wants to extend his career through to the 2015 IRB World Cup and believes he can benefit from a break, preferably after the current Rugby Championship.

"Or in the summer time so I can ease round home and get used to what my next job's going to be (farming)."

He is reluctant to discuss details of any negotiations with the New Zealand Rugby Union but says he has not yet committed to next year's Super Rugby campaign with the Highlanders, who he captained last season.

"If I could jack up a sabbatical and come back and play as well as that (McCaw) after seven months off, I'd be pretty happy."

Finding long-term successors for Hore and Test centurion Keven Mealamu - who share 182 Tests between them - is a priority for the All Blacks coaches. If Hore misses the year-end tour, there will be room for at least one new face alongside Mealamu and 26-year-old Dane Coles.

An "apprenticeship" programme was unveiled on Monday which will see New Zealand's best young hookers train with the All Blacks ahead of their three remaining home Tests this year. Otago and Highlanders rake Liam Coltman, 23, is first up this week ahead of Saturday's second Bledisloe Cup Test against Australia in Wellington.

Two others will be invited into the camp ahead of Rugby Championship Tests against Argentina in Hamilton on September 7 and South Africa in Auckland a week later. All Blacks assistant coach Ian Foster believes Coltman and the others will benefit from the experience.

"Hopefully he'll leave the week with a better knowledge of what it's like to be an international player and hopefully we've got a better knowledge of where he's at," Foster said.

© Sportal
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