Piri Weepu and Victor Vito's strong tour form has not been
enough to reward them with starts against Wales on Sunday.
Both have enormous talent but have suffered in their search
to be regular test players.
Weepu has issues losing weight and staying at his optimal
playing condition and Vito can be guilty of overthinking his
game and getting lost in theory rather than playing more by
However, on this All Black tour, coach Steve Hansen has seen
enormous advances by the pair which produced lively
discussion with Ian Foster about the side to start against
Eventually they stayed with the status quo in Aaron Smith at
halfback and Liam Messam on the blindside but it was a tight
Despite splitting the squad for the tests against Scotland
and Italy, the selectors came to the conclusion that the bulk
of the team they had favoured this season should get the
chance in Cardiff.
"Piri Weepu's performance was the one we have been searching
for," Hansen said. "Outside probably the Wellington game, his
performance against Scotland was outstanding. Not only did we
see his experience but we saw him getting to the breakdown
and clearing the ball the way we would like him.
"But at the end of the day we just felt that Azza [Aaron
Smith] has played well all year and he can give us a good
start and Pow will come off the bench at some point."
Several young players [Brad Shields, Luke Whitelock] were
rising loose forwards and there was always the chance Jerome
Kaino could return from Japan.
However, at this stage blindside was a battle between Messam
and Vito with Adam Thomson left out again as the IRB chose to
appeal the penalty their judiciary imposed on the flanker for
his misdeed against Scotland.
"Liam has really stepped up this year and I think we saw
something in Victor's game against Scotland which was much
improved. I think he has allowed himself, for want of a
better term, to think too much rather than just play and do."
Against Scotland his more relaxed approach allowed his
talents to flow.
Smith had a bruised left knee but would be fine to start.
Wing Julian Savea was scoring tries and had added an offload
to his game and his try assists were on the rise. He felt
more comfortable and the All Black selectors had noticed
Cardiff was a daunting atmosphere and if the crowd fired up
that would be another hurdle for the young wing to conquer.
"We know that Wales have been thinking about this game since
the semifinal last year of the World Cup. They will be really
up for it and if we allow them to get into the game the crowd
will play a part," Hansen said.
Keven Mealamu was not risked because of his history of calf
injuries while the same approach was taken with Beauden
Barrett who has sore ribs.
Dane Coles had shown progress on tour and the selectors felt
comfortable having him on the bench as back-up for Andrew
There was little between Luke Romano and Brodie Retallick but
the decision was to start with the ball-carrying bulk of
Romano before bringing on more energy from Retallick later.
The panel was mindful Retallick was still only a young man in
his first big season of Super and test rugby.
- By Wynne Gray of the New Zealand Herald