Maybe its because I was born on the day of an All Black trial, but I've always loved the idea of the trial matches. Clearly in the days of amateurism it was a cheeky move on the All Blacks part, a sham that actually gave the squad an extra game together to bond & train under the auspices of being a genuine trial. The truth was in the names of the teams, and as this was in the days before the now ubiquitous use of words like 'bolter' I doubt many Possibles got through over the years at the expense of an outplayed Probable.
So, what if we held a Trial now for the upcoming Northern gimmick Grand Slam tour? On the back of some extremely high quality rugby throughout the ITM Cup so far, who would make up Henry-Smith-Hansen's favoured XV? ... And who have they got their eyes on? Below is my twenty cents worth.
Mils Muliaina, Corey Jane, Josevata Rokococo, Conrad Smith, Ma'a Nonu, Aaron Cruden, Piri Weepu, Kieran Read, Richie McCaw (c), Jerome Kaino, Brad Thorne, Tom Donnelly, Tony Woodcock, Kevin Mealamu, Owen Franks
Reserves: Benson Stanley, Rene Ranger, Alby Matthewson, Aled de Malmanche, Victor Vito, Ben Afeaki, Anthony Boric
Israel Dagg, Hosea Gear, Sitiveni Sivivatu, Robbie Fruean, Sonny Bill Williams, Daniel Carter, Jimmy Cowan, Colin Bourke, Liam Messam (c), Tanerau Latimer, Josh Bekhuis, Sam Whitelock, Ben Franks, Jason Routledge, John Afoa
Reserves: Isiah Toeava, Tyson Keats, Colin Slade, Daniel Braid, Luke Romano, Hikwera Elliot, Neemia Tialata
WTF? Well, Carter plays because he needs a game. Richie plays because he'd probably want to. Clearly, there are a few fringe/injured All Black capped players ... Luke McAlister, Richard Kahui, Corey Flynn, Andrew Hore, Adam Thompson, Brendon Leonard out of the running for now
I'd run Cruden with the Probable backs, and give Slade at least 40 mins with the Possibles, maybe more. SBW and Fruean go together ... a mouth-watering mid-field pair for the future. The rest are either players already bedded in the wider squad, and a few of my perceived stand-outs from the ITM so far. Everyone loves a bolter, eh? And as its an unofficial non-IRB match, maybe we should slip a couple more onto the benches, some extra 10s to try out? Taine Randell reckons we should even leave McCaw and Carter out completely and is pretty keen on having another look at Mike Delany. And remember that guy Stephen Donald? Honestly, I think our perceived lack of depth is immaterial: it sells papers and jams talkback switchboards. We are looking good after a stellar Tri Nations, but our Test match depth in terms of blooded players still needs to morph into true big match experience. Any team can struggle in a World Cup match, and we still might ... but I think we are going to see a few new All Blacks, and certainly a tonne of new stars in Super Rugby during 2011.
This was way harder than I thought it would be. All Black coaching job anyone? Pass.
Tough luck Southland on the Ranfurly Shield loss: it may not have been the longest reign, but I think it will be remembered for really putting some life back into its prestige, and creating some new folk heroes like Jason Routledge, Jamie McKintosh and Kenny Lynn. What a ride!
Oh, and Ferdy ... nice extra nail driven into Manawatu's coffin by your Taranaki boys yesterday. Thanks. Needed that.