510. The Replacements

It is not fair to compare the newish players stepping into the shoes of Woodcock, McCaw, Carter, Nonu and Smith, as selected by Shag for the first test against the Welsh

So that is what I will now do, because test footy is not about fairness. It is an examination of character.

Sam Cane for McCaw is a fair swap in terms of qualities as an open side flanker. (Of course, McCaw was worth a great deal more for his leadership, with or without a broken foot.) Cane will go well after a fairly lengthy apprenticeship from about the age of 11, but he has to produce the full goods with Ardie Savea now breathing down his neck. Remember how many very fine flankers that McCaw saw off in his tenure: but that was exceptional not normal.

Cruden is not even slightly newish, having covered first five with great flair during Dan Carter’s many injury lapses. But again, he is under real pressure from Sopoaga to really seriously own the jersey. Barrett is not the threat for ten, because he is simply too good an option off the bench. (And his goal kicking is not nearly good enough.) Maybe that’s a tough gig for Barrett but, hey, he got to score the nail in the coffin try in a Rugby World Cup final, and that’s not too shabby on the CV.

Tough to say it about Cruden who has done incredibly well to come back from an awful injury, but my guess is that Lima is the long-term option.

Fekitoa and Crotty for Nonu and Smith is the big question mark, and it won’t be answered for three or more years, because great midfield backs are like tasty cheese. It just takes time and patience to develop the skills and vision and naughtiness that can see the sliver of a possibility, to shimmy and shake and break it into a probability for people outside you. These are the real chess players of the game, having to think ten moves ahead, and moving the opposition into positions of weakness. Yes, strength and speed and skill matter, but gumption and sneak matter more.

Which leaves us with a maybe Woodcock replacement. Joe Moody has got ticker, and he’s a big lad, and mobile when he wants. But the great thing about Woodcock was his ability to get up for the big games. He could be fair to middling for the Blues one week, and then absolutely dominant for the Blacks the next. The question for Moody, and any other prop aspirants, is whether they can find their fifth gear.

About Ned Davy

By hokey, the big fella’s tipped into his 50s. A rangy loose forward in his prime, good with the ball in hand, but rarely up with the play any more.
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