Everyone capable of distinguishing a rugby ball from an omelette knew the All Blacks hierarchy would omit some spectacularly good wings in finalising their squad for next month's World Cup on home soil, but when the deed was done – when Graham Henry and the rest of the New Zealand coaching staff finally revealed their hand a few hours before deadline – it was still hard to believe there was a team on earth capable of ignoring players as sensational as Hosea Gear and Sitiveni Sivivatu. Their demise made Matt Giteau's rejection by the neighbouring Australians seem humdrum.
Chris Ashton, the most talked about wing in England, will be more than happy to see the back of Gear, against whom he experienced a seriously uncomfortable half-hour or so at Twickenham last autumn. Yet Henry, utterly ruthless when it comes to selection, had questioned the Wellington player's application in the weeks before that tour and, while he was made to eat at least some of his words during the course of it, a series of lukewarm performances just lately resurrected the coach's suspicions. Sivivatu, the fastest slow-motion runner in international rugby, has had his injury problems, but he had been pushing hard for a World Cup place. In the event, the likes of Zac Guildford and Cory Jane – not to mention the exhilarating back-three strike runner Israel Dagg – beat him to the punch. "The team has been selected on current form," Henry remarked.
There have been heavy fallers around the rugby-playing world, including England. Yesterday, the red-rose scrummaging coach, Graham Rowntree, was asked directly about the decision to drop the Wasps centre Riki Flutey from the 2003 champions' 30-man squad – and as Rowntree suffered the deep-seated pain of rejection before that victorious campaign eight years ago, he was the perfect man to respond.
"I'm probably one of the few guys in coaching who can talk about this from experience," he said. "What should a player do when this happens? He should do what I did: go back to his club and pour his frustration into being the best he can be, into being an asset to his team. The last thing a club needs is someone hanging around the place sulking.
"When you're left out of a World Cup squad, it's hard. Some days are better than others, mind you. In '03, I found life more palatable when Austin Healey [his Leicester clubmate] flew all the way to Australia as cover and flew back home a day later. Somehow, that made everything seem all right."Reuse content