Question: What do Piri Weepu, Andrew Hore, Ali Williams, Tony Woodcock, Conrad Smith, Maa Nonu, Keven Mealamu, Dan Carter and ummm a certain Ritchie McCaw have in common ?
Answer: They all debuted for New Zealand on or before 2005.
So what does this have to do with anything I hear some of you ask ?
Well if you go back in annals of All Black Rugby over the years you will see that only 2 players have ever had All Black careers that have extended beyond a ten year timeframe. Colin Earl Meads (1957-71 and Ritchie McCaw (2001-12) being the only real examples.
We here at Sportsfreak call it the ‘Ten year rule’. Only a freak All Black has the ability to play test rugby beyond a ten year cycle – it’s just too hard on the mind and body.
Gary Whetton (1981-91), Ian Jones (1989-99) and even the great John Kirwan (1984-94) are a few of what are many examples of great All Blacks who couldn’t break the ten year barrier and didn’t end stellar careers on their own terms.
The current All Black setup seems to think that the idea of ‘sabbaticals’ (which are really just our best players picking and choosing when they want to play and using it to make a load of cash) will extend the careers of these chosen players but this is all unproven and unchartered territory for Steve Hansen who surely will have to make some hard choices around some players he has been with since he entered to All Black environment in 2004 (refer the above list).
The announcement this week that the almost mystical ‘Leadership Group’ which contains most of the above names has been re-appointed provides an early indication that Hansen has no intention of moving any of these players on anytime soon and is set to make a huge gamble by nurse-maiding them all through to RWC 2015 by allowing them to pick & choose when they play. A massive gamble remembering 1991 when player power infected the All Blacks to a point where the likes of Steve McDowell, the Whetton twins and Grant Fox took over the team and dictated selections such as Buck, how much training the team did, tactics etc. Remember how that ended – yip the disaster in Dublin and one of the most unhappy, unpopular All Black sides in history.
So what does Steve Hansen have to do with all his buddies ? Jettison them. The Blues have shown this year the value of picking youth, getting them fit and simply letting them play and Hansen should do the same. Its time for the likes of Charles Piatau, the Moala Brothers, Alapati Leaua, Dane Coles and maybe even a couple of Whitelock boys to be given an extended test run through to 2015 on the back of the few players Hansen blooded last year – call it a cleanout if you will. The signs are there that Australia are catching up fast now that their injury crisis is over and along with a new coach shortly look extremely dangerous. South Africa remain a huge threat as they always are.
So come on Shag – time to make some difficult decisions, have some awkward conversations and put some of your old buddies out to pasture.