The bold and brave new era of All Blacks rugby continues with promotion of an uncapped 24-year-old

The bold and brave new era of All Blacks rugby continues apace with today’s dramatic promotion of uncapped 24-year-old Canterbury son-of-a-gun Tom Taylor to his first test start.

The theory that coach Steve Hansen is rewriting the once conservative book on All Black selection gained further credence when Taylor was named to start at No 10 for Saturday’s second Bledisloe, and Rugby Championship, test against the Wallabies at Wellington’s Westpac Stadium.

With Dan Carter (torn calf), Aaron Cruden (knee) and Beauden Barrett (calf strain) all ruled out for Saturday, the All Blacks were down to the fourth and fifth rung on their depth chart when they called up Canterbury team-mates Taylor, son of 1987 World Cup-winning midfielder Warwick Taylor, and 10-test international Colin Slade to bolster their first five-eighths stock.

The conservative pick – the one the All Blacks would probably have gone for under any number of previous coaches – would have been Slade. He has test experience, and that normally counts for a lot. He was even part of the 2011 World Cup-winning campaign, before limping off in the quarter-final with a groin tear.

But Hansen has shown he is a more progressive and more willing to take risks to achieve results than his grounded southern persona perhaps reflects.

Taylor is the risky selection, but also the exciting one. This is a young man who looks like he could be something special, with a steely goalkicking nerve – he slotted them at 90 per cent for the Crusaders this year – and a natural feel for the game that is clearly in his genes.

Slade is also a gifted footballer, but he has struggled to regain his very best form since suffering a succession of injuries following the last World Cup. At 25 he has time still on his side, but he is a young man rebuilding his confidence, rather than revelling in it.

Taylor has been on the All Blacks radar for a while now, with his ability to play 10, 12 or 15 with equal assurance. In fact, his lack of game-time at No 10 further underlines the audacity of Hansen’s selection.

Taylor played one warmup game at first-five for the Crusaders before starting seven matches at second-five and a further three at fullback during their Super Rugby campaign.

But Hansen is happy to roll the dice with an opportunity that has come a little ahead of schedule, and maybe in a different position than he might have envisioned.

“He is mentally tough and plays the game with a lot of confidence and maturity,” said Hansen. “These factors, along with his assured goalkicking under pressure, has made this an easy selection.

“We have every faith that he will handle the occasion with aplomb.”

Taylor is one of two injury-enforced changes from the team that started last week’s impressive Bledisloe victory over the Wallabies in Sydney.

The other will raise less eyebrows, with well performed Chiefs lock Brodie Retallick coming in for Luke Romano who is out for the remainder of the Rugby Championship with a groin injury.

The test will also be the 100th cap for veteran loosehead prop Tony Woodcock who is part of an unchanged front row, deservedly retained after their superior scrummaging display in Sydney.

There is more movement in the reserves, where Wellington hooker Dane Coles comes back into the matchday 23 after proving his fitness at provincial level, as does fit-again prop Wyatt Crockett and Lions skipper Jeremy Thrush to cover lock.

In the backs, Slade makes is named in the All Blacks for the first time since 2011 and Taylor’s ability to cover second-five means Auckland’s Charles Piutau replaces Ryan Crotty as the outside back cover.

Hansen said it would be a special test for Woodcock as he became the All Blacks’ fourth test centurion, behind skipper Richie McCaw (117), Keven Mealamu (105) and Mils Muliaina (100).

Some had wondered whether Woodcock’s days were numbered after Crockett’s performances in the June tests, but last Saturday night provided a timely reminder of what the 32-year-old is still capable of.

“Woody is a hugely respected player within the group who always puts the team first,” said Hansen. “It has been business as usual for him and the team this week, but we will enjoy acknowledging his achievement with him after the game.”

Hansen also warned against any complacency following the 47-29 victory in Sydney that sees the All Blacks just one win away from retaining the Bledisloe Cup for another year.

“They will be hurting after that test and will throw everything at us,” he said. “They will be looking to play with more accuracy and intensity, so we will need to meet – or better – that with a higher level of execution right across the board.”

Meanwhile, Frank Halai (Counties Manukau), Joe Moody (Canterbury) and Brad Shields (Wellington) have been released to play in week two of the national provincial championship if required.

All Blacks: Israel Dagg, Ben Smith, Conrad Smith, Ma’a Nonu, Julian Savea, Tom Taylor, Aaron Smith; Kieran Read, Richie McCaw (capt), Steven Luatua, Sam Whitelock, Brodie Retallick, Owen Franks, Andrew Hore, Tony Woodcock. Reserves: Dane Coles, Wyatt Crockett, Charlie Faumuina, Jeremy Thrush, Sam Cane, Tawera Kerr-Barlow, Colin Slade, Charles Piutau.

– © Fairfax NZ News

About Martin Myers
Music Supervisor / Artist and Talent Manager / Publicist / Music Exchange Founder / Owner Triple M Entertainment

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