All Blacks Rugby: Who Is the Best Option to Replace Cory Jane?
It's rare that you would look at the All Blacks and say that they are light in wingers. Throughout history, they have produced many of the best flyers the world has seen, with the men donning the No. 11 and No. 14 jerseys for the All Blacks always being amongst the best in the world.
But they may be faced with such a case in 2013. It now appears they will be without the services of Cory Jane and Zac Guildford for the majority of the year.
When Guildford stepped down from rugby indefinitely last month, it was viewed as a loss to the Crusaders, but there was always sufficient cover for the All Blacks. He wasn't included in the side for the majority of 2012 after all, but was always on the fringe if needed.
The situation has been made more problematic, however, with an injury to Cory Jane looking set to sideline the incumbent right winger for much of the 2013 season as was reported by Stuff.
Of course, there are plenty of other wingers around. But the gaps left by these two men will be hard to fill.
Jane will be especially hard to replace, given his importance in diffusing the kick and chase tactics of opponents over the past three seasons. Under a high ball, there is no one safer, effectively negating the kicking game of opposition.
To go with this, he is a very strong runner with a good fend and has a skill set as good as any outside back in the world.
While there are other wingers around that could come in for Jane, there are none who can boast this same all-around game that is needed out of at least one of the wingers in the current game.
Who should the All Blacks use as their starting wing pairing?
Julian Savea and Hosea Gear are both quality players, dangerous runners who are a handful for any defence to handle. However, Savea is still shaky under the high ball, and even more crucially, neither possesses a strong kicking game.
One of them will almost definitely feature in the starting team, but it must be questioned whether it would be wise to use two players of that mould together.
Ben Smith is an option, having been used as the utility back off the bench for much of 2012 season. He certainly has a top skill set, capable of playing fullback, wing and in the midfield comfortably. With ball in hand, he is dangerous, reading a game well and spotting holes that others seem unable to spot.
He can kick too, something that will play into his hands. The one black mark against his name comes in his high-ball skills, which are still a work in progress. While never short of commitment in this area, Smith has a tendency to attack the ball fiercely but never actually look like catching it.
This could be a problem, as at the highest level, it is a weakness that will be exploited time and time again and can be the winning and losing of games.
The highly dangerous Andre Taylor could be an option, too. Although being yet to don the black jersey, Taylor has a nose for the line and possesses great pace that sees him capable of breaking defences. His skill level is reasonable, but lack of experience at rugby's highest level could see him struggle to move into the starting team.
Richard Kahui is a definite contender, having shown himself more than capable of playing on the wing at Rugby World Cup 2011. However, an injury during last seasons Super 15 campaign has seen him play no rugby for the past eight months and he will need to prove himself once again.
Zac Guildford would have been a likely option too, but due to his incident earlier in the year, it would be fairly optimistic to assume he will be back and ready to go this year.
Of course, there could be room for a bolter. Johnny McNicholl is an outstanding talent possessing the all-around game that is needed, but may struggle to break into the ranks having yet to play Super Rugby.
So who is the best bet then?
Of course, there is always the option of sticking with Gear and Savea. Both have proven themselves at the top level and were involved in the set up last year. But with this, there is also extra onus put on Israel Dagg to provide more of a kicking game, tying him up and preventing him from attacking the way he can.
If Richard Kahui can make it through the Super 15 without an injury, he would almost definitely be the best option. But that is a big if, given the number of shoulder problems he has had over the years.
Smith would be next in line, performing admirably off the bench last year, and despite possibly coming up a bit short under the high ball, would still rate as highly as most wingers in world rugby.
But whatever option they take, it remains clear that Cory Jane is a player who will be difficult to replace.
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