Hosea Gear, Luke McAlister, Adam Thomson, Zac Guilford. What do all these names have in common? If you had have asked me this morning, I would have told you that they were rugby players who were all to be named in the 2010 All Blacks Tri -Nations squad. And I'm sure many other people would have done too.
It came as a shock then, to hear not one of these names read out when the All Black selectors named their 28-man squad to contest the Tri-Nations starting on July 10.
While the squad seems an improvement on last year's Tri-Nations team, it still seems clear that there are some deserving of a spot who can't seem to break into the selectors' ranks.
Rampaging winger Hosea Gear still isn't able to break into the team despite his form over the past two seasons. After scoring a Lomu-like hat-trick against England on Wednesday, many expected to hear his name read this morning. While he may not be the most skillful winger, he is certainly the most dangerous in New Zealand rugby and is a real handful for opposing defences. So why then do you not pick a player of this calibre?
Sure, if you have someone better then that's just bad luck for Gear. But Joe Rokocoko ? It's time we moved on. He was a great winger but these days he just doesn't offer the same threat he has done in years gone by. His skills under the high ball are questionable and heading into a competition where you are playing three tests against the Springboks, that is very worrying.
What Joe does offer is good off ball play. He hits a lot of rucks and goes looking for work. I would have had no problem with his inclusion in the squad if it had not come at the expense of Hosea Gear.
The All Blacks are supposed to be a team of the best players in New Zealand at the time of selection. The team should be picked on who is playing well, not who has played well in the past and is trying to rediscover some form. This should be done at a lower level, not in a test match.
But this wasn't the only questionable omission. Zac Guilford was dropped from the side after an exceptional Super 14 and a good performance against Wales last night. He is another one that should be there ahead of Joe Rokocoko .
Guilford is an exciting young player who has stepped up to the big time well and should be a player Henry and his men should be looking to keep in the frame rather than pushing him away. He could be valuable to the All Blacks at next years World Cup should they choose to pick him.
However, it is looking more and more likely that Rokocoko will be one of the wingers used by the All Blacks come World Cup time.
After making his test debut last night, Rene Ranger has been selected, a move which seems to have sparked some debate. Ranger is a hard-running player who provides a good threat to defences, but it seems strange to pick someone who couldn't even start in the three previous tests ahead of Zac Guilford.
The most likely explanation is that Ranger is capable of playing both centre and wing, but when you have Conrad Smith and Richard Kahui at centre and Cory Jane and Joe Rokocoko as wings, it would seem more prudent to pick Guilford or Gear ahead of a player in Ranger who is yet to prove himself at this level.
Benson Stanley retains his spot despite the return of Ma'a Nonu. While he was solid at second five, Stanley's inexperience showed up at times during his first three tests, making his selection one that could be debatable.
After three excellent performances for New Zealand Maori, Luke McAlister was unlucky not to be recalled. Stanley could be worth the gamble, but I don't think that he is ready just yet.
Mils Muliaina retains his spot after a rusty performance last night, while Israel Dagg walks into the side after giving us a very good first impression at test level. Cory Jane will start on the wing and is another option at the back. He has looked top-class so far this year and is a player who will only get better.
Dan Carter picks himself at first five after three excellent performances, as always. The selectors seem keen to persist with youngster Aaron Cruden as the back-up first five after three solid performances off the bench.
Jimmy Cowan and Piri Weepu rightfully reclaim their spots as the two halfbacks.
The forward pack seems pretty standard other than one notable omission in the hard working Adam Thomson.
It is beyond me how they can overlook someone with such a high work rate, who is clearly the best all-round blindside flanker in New Zealand. Ahead of him, we see the hard hitting Jerome Kaino, the new kid on the block Victor Vito, and the recalled Liam Messam .
Kaino seems like a logical selection as he would have to be the starting blindside against South Africa. Victor Vito, I feel, also deserves a spot as he has an outstanding work rate, not ahead of Thomson, though.
The one that really makes me wonder is Liam Messam . While he may be a good player at Super 14 level, he hasn't cut it at test level when playing there in the past. He can tend to want to be a ball runner too much while Thomson offers more around the park, affecting many turnovers and making truckloads of tackles.
Richie McCaw is the captain and will be the starting openside, while fellow Cantabrian Kieran Read reclaims his spot at No. 8.
Brad Thorn, Tom Donnelly, Anthony Boric, and Sam Whitelock all return as locks after impressing in the June Tests.
I was pleased to see Owen and Ben Franks both retain their spots in the front row as they are both good hard men who offer a lot around the field. Tony Woodcock claims another one of the prop spots while John Afoa has been recalled to fill the fourth.
The dropping of Neemia Tialata may come as a surprise to some but to me it's been coming for a while. He can be very lazy at times and has been very average in recent years.
At hooker, Keven Mealamu deservedly retains his place in the team while Corey Flynn makes his return, replacing Aled De Malmanche in a move that didn't surprise many.
This side will still be competitive in the Tri -Nations and will be favoured to beat the Springboks in New Zealand. Winning in South Africa may be beyond them though if they don't get their selections sorted.
2010 All Blacks Tri -Nations Squad:
Richie McCaw (c)
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