The Team That Never Travelled: Part Eight, Right Wing

Hell of a lot of wingers out there. Hell of a lot. Good ‘uns, too.
Hosea Gear [27, NZ & Hurricanes] is, of all the wingers mentioned, probably the one who was in the best form and yet missed out on selection. The likes of Rokocoko and Sivivatu are to some degree trading on past glories, but Gear is in the best form of his career. He was the NZRFU’s Maori Player of the Year for 2010 and had a sensational NH tour last year, scoring five tries in three matches.

The wing position for the All Blacks is extremely competitive. There are a awful lot of very good wingers knocking about, many of whom would make other World Cup squads – Masaga, Ranger, the aforementioned Rokocoko, Sivivatu …

Zac Guildford’s performances for the Crusaders put him in the shop window, but he’s yet to make any impact on the World Cup. Guildford’s had some issues regarding publicity and boozing, but the Mole can’t help feeling that there’s something very conservative about Graham Henry’s selection policy – all these fulllback/wingers or centre/wingers filling the wideout positions. Gear has suffered from this mindset more than anybody else.

David Strettle - English kit purely for promotional purposes

David Strettle [28, England & Saracens] has somehow been left behind again for Cueto, and somehow has only seven caps. There’s no doubt that Strettle dirtied his bib on the New Zealand tour in 2008, when a sex scandal broke in the tabloids concerning all sorts of dirty deeds done dirt cheap.

He debuted against Ireland in Croke Park in 2007 as a twenty-three year old, and while Shane Horgan put a big forearm in his mush and knocked him arse over tit, he was probably England’s best player on the day and even bagged a try in a heavy defeat. Since then his international career has been intermittent at best. Injuries have played a part – he missed RWC07 because of one –  and he’s just been unlucky as hell: colitis made him miss the 2009 summer tour to Argentina, and he was hospitalised with gastro-enteritis in South Africa before the last World Cup, which he then missed with a broken metatarsal … one of three he suffered in a fairly nightmarish fifteen month run of foot injuries.

Cueto is a good, well-rounded wing, but his scoring record over the last two seasons has been beyond brutal – one try in twenty-five international matches! Before his five-pointer against a crap Italy in the Six Nations this season, you’d have to go back two full years for his last international try. As I am writing this, Cueto has just scored his third try of the first half for England against Romania. This is turning into a ‘Curse of the Mole’ type experience.

However,  the lustre has really worn off Strettle with the English rugby media. He’s the ‘shop-soiled white hope’ these days [with apologies to le Carré] despite the fact that he’s still a good, hard-working and fast winger.

Rene Ranger [24, New Zealand & Auckland Blues] has never really got a chance for the national team despite some savage form in the Super XV. In some ways his situation mirrors that of Josea Gear – an out and out winger who is extremely exciting with ball in hand but deemed to lack some footballin skills.

The Mole’s take is a bit Gary Cook-ish* on this one: “Graham Henry’s bottled it”. He’s gone a little bit conservative, omitting the out-and-out wingers in favour of more rounded, less dangerous players. It’s a reasonable enough call – versatility is always prized in tournament rugby – but it’s a bit conservative. He’s also made a flagrantly poor call in including Zac Guildford, who has yet to feature in a match-day squad and been publicly disciplined for boozing on the job. He’ll probably get a run-out against Canada, but I’ll be shocked if he has any impact whatsoever in the World Cup. Cue Zak Guildford try-blitz against a tired Canuck team.

Back to Ranger though – he’s the sort of low-slung quick-stepper that is basically born for rugby. A real highlight reel hero, all big hand-offs, outrageous sidesteps and deadly tries. The World Cup would be a better tournament with him in it.

Lwazi Mvovo [25, SA & Natal Sharks]: Crazy Piet is on the record as saying that it came right down to the wire between Mvovo and Ndungane for a place on the Boks World Cup squad.

Lwazi Mvovo: Zoom

“Lwazi [Mvovo] was one of those selections that you had to really think hard about because he is an extraordinary talent. We sat and thought about what we need at this World Cup and what role the players should play. If I needed a guy to start it would definitely have been Lwazi, but we do have a few guys who will be in the starting line-up and we are looking to those guys who have been around the block and who are holistically good in the position who can do well in defence as well as attack.”

That’s a very straight and rational answer. Personally, I think that they should have been a little less cautious and brought a winger who offers real pace, excitement and form. JP Pietersen and Bryan Habana are little more than role players at this stage of their careers: Pietersen has scored two tries in his last twenty-one tests, and Bryan Habana only broke an eleven-game barren streak with a try against the hapless Namibians. Ndungane is hardly a try-scoring monster either, and at 30 years old with only nine caps to his name offers a not particularly enticing blend of relatively advanced age and inexperience.

Mvovo has tons of pace and power, and is an exciting runner. There are loads of footballing shortcomings in his game, but he would have added a violent cutting edge to a Boks side that is using a converted scrum-half as its main wide-out scoring threat.

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