No surprise that world-class players left out

Waisake Naholo runs through drills during an All Black training session in Auckland yesterday....
Waisake Naholo runs through drills during an All Black training session in Auckland yesterday. PHOTO: GETTY IMAGES
The All Blacks, clever and innovative bunch that they are, still have not found a way to fit all of their 33 selected players into their match-day squad and hence every team they pick generates a number of hard-luck stories.

It should not really be a surprise that good players - world-class players even - regularly have to be left out.

And yet it seems it always is when it happens and the non-selection of Waisake Naholo for the first test of the year has threatened to become a point of greater interest than it needs to be.

The facts of the matter are these: there are five supremely gifted outside backs in the All Blacks' squad and only three of them can start.

Each test there are going to be two players disappointed to miss out but what matters is that they understand that they are not being overlooked because they are not trusted or rated.

It will probably be, for the outside backs at least, a case of horses for courses in the sense the coaches will configure their back three to suit their tactical approach.

That is the luxury they have - they can mix and match depending on who they play and how they want to play.

For this particular test, the All Blacks have decided they want a heavy emphasis on kick-catch - both defensively and offensively - and hence the decision was made to play Jordie Barrett at fullback and Ben Smith on the wing. Naholo, in cracking form and full of running, misses out but the expectation is that he will most likely feature at some stage in the series when the coaches decide they want to try a different attacking mix.

"We were pretty impressed with how Jordie went for us last year when he played against the Lions," All Black coach Steve Hansen said.

"He played really well and obviously he's got some aerial skills that we are looking for and we think both he and Bender [Ben Smith] give us a really good aerial back three.

"They are world-class and of course Rieko picks himself. It is tough on Wais [Waisake Naholo] because he is playing well but, at the end of the day, you can't please everyone so you might as well please yourself.

"Jordie's last game for us was pretty exceptional and we are talking about building depth so we have to take risks and we will get reward for it."

The situation was a little different in the other two areas of selection contention: the midfield and loose trio.

In the former, Hansen said that the recent form and proven test qualities of Anton Lienert-Brown made him the right partner for the impossible-to-leave-out Ryan Crotty.

And in the loose trio, once Sam Cane proved his fitness and Liam Squire was confirmed as available they were locked in.

The decision to pick Luke Whitelock at No8 was relatively simple, too, as Jordan Taufua is struggling with a tight hamstring. Hansen reckoned that despite all the various concerns leading into this week in regard to injuries, he was able to pick the team they had hoped for.

Once, or if, everyone is fit again, the only changes would be Dane Coles in at hooker, Brodie Retallick restored at lock, Kieran Read at No8 and Sonny Bill Williams at 12 with Crotty reverting to 13.

Coles is in still some way off returning but Read, who is with the team this week, is tracking strongly and may yet play some Super Rugby and Williams is expected to be playing again early next month.

The news on Retallick was better than expected, too. The big lock has been diagnosed with a bone fracture as opposed to the more damaging muscle tear.

"He hasn't got a pec tear which is pretty good news but he does have a small fracture right in underneath his pec and he will be out for probably six weeks which is good news considering a tear to his pec would have been the end of his season," Hansen said.

"If the Chiefs make the playoffs, he may be back for those."

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