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Martin Devlin: The day of the bolter is gone


By Martin Devlin

Published: 7:23AM Monday July 11, 2011 Source: ONE Sport

The ritual announcement of the year's first All Black squad is seen as a time of celebration.

It's an immensely proud occasion for players and their families to share without the controversy, rancour and impassioned debate that in past times often deflected attention more towards the few who may have missed out rather than the many who did in fact made it.

The true days of the "bolter", the sensational come-from-nowhere selection or gob-smacking shock omission, have also largely disappeared.

Most followers of the game are now comfortably able to predict each entire squad well in advance of any official proclamations.

This was the case yesterday when the chosen 30 were named for the upcoming Fiji and Tri-Nations Tests.

Barring any new injuries, and remembering to re-include those bracketed players still recovering from theirs, these are also the same men now responsible for re-righting 24 years of disappointment by re-claiming the only rugby trophy the All Blacks find so torturously elusive, the William Webb-Ellis Rugby World Cup.

Despite what Graham Henry said before last year's northern hemisphere tour, that 90% of those players would make up the bulk of the World Cup selections, almost one third of the 2010 Grand Slam squad have been replaced.

Players such as Williams, Weepu and Kahui were (injury permitting) always in line for immediate recall. The Super Rugby form played as much of an obvious part in the inclusion of Hoeata, Thomson, Flynn and Guildford as it did in the omission of Braid, Elliott, Jane, Donald and Rokocoko.

The squad (Hoeata aside) is steeped in Test match experience, battle-hardened from the Tri-Nations and Bledisloe Cup triumphs of recent years with the recall of Colin Slade, perhaps the only surprise.

It does seem bizarre that an injury-free and in-form Slade (with every armchair selector in the land pleading his case) is now clearly considered to be the second No. 10 and the only specialist replacement we have for champion pivot Dan Carter.

With Jane, Sivivatu, Crockett and Smith covering the injured trio of Dagg, Toeava and Woodcock, the selectors have signalled their intention to keep faith with the tried and trusted. However, they are still rewarding consistency demonstrated thru-out the extended Super competition and refusing to ignore the complete drop-off in form from such previously loyal troops as Rokocoko, Donnelly, Donald and Braid.

One player I'd have certainly found room for is Rene Ranger. If there's any ongoing criticism of this 30 strong squad, you'd think it'll probably be directed more towards the flash-boys rather than the grunt-men.

I do question whether we have enough out-and-out speed in the backs, the likes of Gear, Kahui, Toeava, Nonu and SBW being unquestionably all strong combative types. But do we have the sheer pace to match it with the best the world will bring?

Watching the Crusaders struggle to contain Queensland's quickest on Saturday night it's certainly one area that could cause concern.

Doubtless there will be some disgruntled reaction, but overall I'd be surprised if most people didn't accept this squad as being (pretty much) the best available players we currently have.

The reality is, they're not only the best, but in terms of the WC this is also as good as it's actually going to get.

What do you think? Leave your comment below:

Click here to read more from Martin Devlin.



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