Time for NZRU to award retrospective test caps

It's time the New Zealand Rugby Union considered the awarding of retrospective test caps for All Blacks of the past.

That became clear at the weekend as I watched the second-string Springboks succumb to the Wallabies, the All Blacks muddle to victory against Fiji and all four teams award test caps to players for just a few minutes work.

Why should test caps be awarded to the South Africans, without 21 of their best players, and to the 2011 All Blacks, when they were not awarded to the All Blacks who played considerably stronger Fijian sides in 1974 and 1980?

New Zealanders have long put a premium on test caps. The Canterbury utility back, Shayne Philpott, who played 14 games (and two tests) for the All Blacks between 1988 and 1991 was so upset by being named by a radio station as one of the 10 worst All Blacks that he placed his test caps for auction on Trade Me.

It was only after overwhelming support from the public that Philpott withdrew his caps from the auction. The public recognised what the shock jocks hadn't - that there is no such thing as a bad All Black, and particularly during a golden era of New Zealand rugby.

There are no All Blacks among the 18 players who have achieved 100 test caps for their country.

Sean Fitzpatrick, with 92, topped the list until late last year. Now Richie McCaw and Mils Muliaina, both with 95, are on the verge of becoming the first All Blacks to play 100 tests.

Four Australians, three Irishmen, Welshmen and Springboks, two Frenchmen and one player each from England, Scotland and Italy make up the distinguished list.

George Gregan, who tops the world list with 139 caps, Philippe Sella, Brian O'Driscoll, Victor Matfield and David Campese are among the greats of the game to have achieved 100 test caps.

But, with due respect, you would hardly class Jason Leonard (England), Johnny Hayes (Ireland), Chris Paterson (Scotland) and Martyn Williams (Wales) among the game's elite.

Australia has long awarded test caps for matches against smaller nations including Tonga and Samoa but, until the past decade or so, New Zealand has been much more choosey about who it played and whether the matches justified the award of test caps.

The South Africa side which played in Sydney was a parody of the real Springboks. I watched the Wallaby awesome foursome of Kurtley Beale, James O'Connor, Quade Cooper and Will Genia for a while and then switched over to the test cricket at Lord's.

It was simply not a contest, as we know it at test level, and the Wallabies could well have posted 60 points if their finishing had been better.

And I'd been spoilt by watching the Ranfurly Shield match between Canterbury and Southland earlier in the day. The Shield continues its habit of producing epic contests, just when you least expect them.

Until the challenge, Southland had seemed flat, without edge and, dare I say it, bound for the championship (second division).

Now, Southlanders are on cloud nine, again.

Back to the test caps. The All Blacks who played against Fiji in 1974 and 1980 should be awarded full retrospective test caps, as should the New Zealand teams which played Argentina in unofficial internationals in Dunedin and Wellington in 1979 and the All Blacks who played two internationals in Japan in 1987.

And, most deservedly of all, full test caps should be awarded to Charlie Saxon's Kiwis who played internationals against the Five Home Nations as they set about restoring morale in post-war Britain and Europe.

Many had either been All Blacks before the war or later became All Blacks in peacetime, but not all. They all deserved to be, not just for their skill but for their spirit of sacrifice.

It is an anomaly they and their families have not been honoured with test caps. It is an anomaly, along with players who appeared in other unofficial internationals, that the NZRU should correct.


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