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All Black coaches gambling with youth over experience


By Max Bania

Published: 9:54AM Wednesday May 23, 2012 Source: ONE Sport

It's not uncommon at this time of the year to hear rumblings from the south over selectorial slights - perceived or otherwise - against All Black hopefuls from the Highlanders catchment.

This year, it seems they may have a point. 

Despite sitting only one place outside the top six with an 8-4 record that matches that of the Crusaders, there are just five Highlanders in the wider training group - and two others who must be considered unlucky not to be there.

What does Hosea Gear have to to add to his eight Test caps? 

Incorrectly overlooked in last year's World Cup squad in favour Zac Guildford, Gear must've felt that sinking feeling of déjà vu when the Cantabrian was again called up ahead of Gear last week as an injury replacement in the All Blacks training squad.

Now Gear is set to be snubbed again when the second training squad is confirmed, with red-hot Hurricanes fullback Andre Taylor set to be named as a replacement for Cory Jane.

Granted, both Guildford and Taylor have age on their side, while the former appears to have dealt to his off-field issues, but a man of Gear's pedigree should be a no-brainer, especially considering the inexperience of the other back three options.

He hasn't been the try-machine many Highlanders fans would hope he'd be, but that was never going to be the case in a side that prefers to wear teams down rather than sting them out wide.

Gear's workrate this year has been tireless; he carries the ball back into contact relentlessly and almost always hits the advantage line, and he makes few mistakes under pressure. 

Opposition defences, acutely aware of his attacking threat, often commit three or four men to bringing him down.

In other words, Gear seems well-suited to the style of rugby the All Blacks will likely play in the first part of this year.

The Irish Tests are unlikely to be dazzling spectacles highlighted by running rugby. 

Three tight, forward-oriented tussles in slippery conditions loom, and there will be a lot of hard yakka and not much room to move for New Zealand's back three.

Japan must be looking like an increasingly tempting carrot for the 28-year-old.

The other unlucky southerner is Jarrad Hoeata. 

Many saw the Highlanders enforcer as a natural replacement for Brad Thorn in the All Black engine room. 

But injury delayed the start of his Super Rugby campaign, and in the coaches' eyes he hasn't been able to make up the ground on young bolter Luke Romano.

Some television pundits ruminated this week that Hoeata is too small to stand up to the Springbok tight five; a laughable claim considering he lorded over a mighty Bulls pack on the weekend. 

Hoeata has been a key cog in the side since his return from injury and it seems strange to discard him now, after the investment placed in him last year.

The selectors' emphasis on youth over experience - on future over present - is admirable and necessary. 

Any World Cup-winning side is necessarily going to be a team in transition.

But they're also running a big risk.

The All Blacks' proud history of never losing to Ireland is on the line, and the backlash would be severe if they lost that record with an understrength team on home soil.

It may well be that injury and attrition eventually do allow Gear and Hoeata to take their place in the All Blacks squad. 

But most in the south would say they should've been there from the start.

Do you agree with Max Bania? Would you pick Hosea Gear ahead of Zac Guildford for the first Test against Ireland?


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  • wads said on 2012-05-23 @ 17:58 NZDT: Report abusive post

    incorrectly overlooked? Zacs first world cup, game scores 4 tries... We already have a power winger in savea would be stupid to have 2, with jane gone we need some speed out wide.

  • blindside said on 2012-05-23 @ 14:37 NZDT: Report abusive post

    Picking Zac over Sivivatu and Gear for the World Cup and his getting the huge bonus payment for contributing nothing is the sign that some players are favoured more than others and maybe some teams players over others. Taking promising youngsters from the Chiefs reserves bench ahead of seasoned standout players like Messam or Latimer, for example, is another concern.

  • thakiwi said on 2012-05-23 @ 11:24 NZDT: Report abusive post

    I agree. I would like to see Hoeata and Gear there too. Hoeata for Romano and Gear for Guildford. I would also loose some from the Blues considering they have done so poorly.