All Blacks turn to Ranger power
July 15, 2010
All Blacks wing Rene Ranger trains ahead of his first test start for New Zealand © Getty Images
Rene Ranger has been named for his first All Blacks start while Piri Weepu has also been promoted at the expense of Jimmy Cowan for New Zealand's Tri-Nations clash with South Africa in Wellington on Saturday.
Coach Graham Henry delayed the naming of his side to wait on injury news on wing Joe Rokocoko and scrum-half Cowan and their places have been taken by Ranger and Weepu respectively in the only two changes to the team that smashed the Springboks 32-12 in Auckland last Saturday.
Rokocoko failed to overcome a hamstring strain and while Cowan has recovered from an abdominal strain, his mixed display at Eden Park has seen him replaced by 39-test veteran Piri Weepu, who has been largely employed as an impact player in recent seasons.
The only other change in the 22 sees Israel Dagg introduced as outside back cover in place of Richard Kahui, who injured his shoulder in the Auckland test.
Ranger made his debut with 25 minutes off the bench at outside centre in the defeat of Wales at Hamilton on June 26 when he impressed with some lively bursts, although he butchered a likely try when ignoring an overlap outside him. Assistant coach Wayne Smith admitted Ranger's ability at the top level was still in question but his raw talents meant he was worth the risk.
"Rene's like any new player. Coming up to this level is quite a big ask because you have to learn the tactical approach that we're taking and the moves that we're going to use," he said. "Then you've got to come up to the level mentally. But you've to be careful that you don't clutter these guys and you let them go out and do what they're good at.
"We selected people because they're good at what they do at Super 14, we just have to make sure that we allow them to do that, back their instinct and play like they play on any rectangle any given Saturday."
Ranger was a standout for the Blues during the Super 14, beating defenders effortlessly through a mix of pace and rare power for an outside back, although he his sometimes erratic displays - which typified the Blues' inconsistent season - saw him dropped to the bench on the odd occasion. Smith said the world champion Springboks would not make life easy for the 23-year-old potential match-winner.
"There are other players who look a million dollars (at provincial and Super 14 level) and can't quite cut it in the test arena. You don't quite know until you play them," Smith said. "You never know until they're in the heat of the battle, how they're going to react."
New Zealand: M Muliaina (Chiefs); C Jane (Hurricanes), C Smith (Hurricanes), M Nonu (Hurricanes), R Ranger (Blues); D Carter (Crusaders), P Weepu (Hurricanes); T Woodcock (Blues), K Mealamu (Blues); O Franks (Crusaders); B Thorn (Crusaders); T Donnelly (Highlanders); J Kaino (Blues); R McCaw (Crusaders, capt), K Read (Crusaders)
Replacements: C Flynn (Crusaders), B Franks (Crusaders), S Whitelock (Crusaders), L Messam (Chiefs), J Cowan (Highlanders), A Cruden (Hurricanes), I Dagg (Highlanders)