Andy Ellis Should Still Be an All Black

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Andy Ellis Should Still Be an All Black
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In 2012 when Andy Ellis' name was missing from the All Blacks squad to play Ireland in the June tests, there were many pundits shaking their heads. Having been the form scrum-half in New Zealand for the season up until that point, it was hard to see what else he could have done to have his name read out.

Two years later, not much has changed. He is still one of the top scrum-halves in the country, and yet he is still unable to win back that elusive black jersey.

After being part of the 2011 World Cup winning All Black team, Ellis was tipped by many to become the first-choice No. 9 for the 2012 season. Jimmy Cowan was looking past his best while Piri Weepu had returned unfit and failed to recapture the form that made him one of the World Cup's best players.

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Andy Ellis clears the ball from the ruck during the 2011 Rugby World Cup Final.

Yet it was suggested that the All Blacks wanted to look to the future, meaning Ellis was surplus to requirements.

Certainly Aaron Smith had emerged as a fine player, and he fully deserved his selection, but to select Weepu ahead of Ellis made little sense. At the same age as Ellis, Weepu could hardly be seen as a more youthful prospect, while his form and fitness simply had not been good enough. Weepu never really made an impact for the All Blacks that year and has not been sighted for them since.

Yet despite Ellis' continuing good form, it was Tawera Kerr-Barlow and later TJ Perenara who were preferred to play the role of back-up to Aaron Smith in 2013.

One really has to question why this is. Of course Kerr-Barlow and Perenara have both been solid in their appearances for the All Blacks, but neither has the experience and the all-round game of Ellis.

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TJ Perenara and Tawera Kerr-Barlow have both been preferred to Ellis over the past two years.

Even Aaron Smith had his short-comings in last year's Super Rugby competition, and it has only been in the past six months he has emerged as the clear No. 1. His selection was, of course, understandable, as his fast-pass sniping ability and support play fit well into the up-tempo All Black game plan.

Kerr-Barlow and Perenara, though, do not have this going for them any more than Ellis does. Kerr-Barlow has the best running game of the contenders, while Perenara is a mature player for his age with strength and a cool head.

Ellis, though, remains the best all-round player of the lot. He is tidy, rarely makes mistakes and takes good options. His pass is second to only Aaron Smith's. While his kicking game is strong, his intelligence is high and his running game good enough.

With only one year to go until the World Cup, he is still playing good rugby. The fear that he was perhaps too old after the last one has not yet been realised, and it would have seemed prudent to give him a chance after a string of good performances.

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Ellis with a dive-pass against the Springboks during the 2008 Tri-Nations.

This has not happened, as the selectors persist with the inexperienced Perenara and the inconsistent Kerr-Barlow. 

Last week it was reported by Richard Knowler of Stuff.co.nz that Ellis has taken up a contract to play in Japan later this year, meaning he will miss Canterbury's ITM Cup campaign. 

Yet the man indicated that he would return to New Zealand to play Super Rugby in 2015 and make one last bid to get to the World Cup. It is hard to see his form deteriorating too much in the space of 12 months, given his consistency over his career. Surely the selectors must at least be looking at him as an option. It shows that he at least still has the desire to represent his country.

Despite this, it will not be a surprise if he is not included in the team. It is beginning to become more common for players to get pigeon-holed like this. Ellis was thought of as too old in 2012, when the reality is he is still amongst the best in the country in 2014.

We see it time and again: Some players seem to be given multiple chances, while others do not. Victor Vito springs readily to mind as one who was dropped after doing little wrong, as does Ben Franks who has been arguably the best of the New Zealand loosehead props in Super Rugby.

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Compare these to the likes of Israel Dagg, Ma'a Nonu and Tony Woodcock, who have been persisted with despite some indifferent form over the past three years.

Perhaps you could argue that experience counts, as the All Black selectors have made it well-known that they are loyal to their players. Yet Ellis boasts the experience of 26 Tests and two World Cups, which would be invaluable to this All Black side, who are yet to find a definite No. 2 scrum-half.

You could call him the forgotten man, the unlucky man or perhaps the overlooked man of New Zealand rugby. With a year to go, though, there is still time to get him in the mix for the World Cup, but you have to ask: What else must the man do to convince those who count that he is good enough?  

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