James Mortimer 04.Aug.2013Getty Images
Some would argue that there has never been more depth in the position, and the All Blacks now boast a triumvirate of young nines that will form the platform for the future and safeguarding of Test halfbacks, but such evolution comes at a cost – and international rugby isn’t requiring such players to have the attributes that Weepu brings to the table.
Physicality, the ability to act as a ninth forward, and an educated boot; have given way for a desire to clear the ball from the ruck with terrifying speed, not merely indicative of the five-second clearance law, but the clear fact that in the modern game, getting the ball away from marauding flankers is the surest way of maintaining possession.
Head coach Steve Hansen surmised that playing the game with such pace was the way forward to dominate, and the solitary Test loss in 17 internationals in charge indicates he is moving in the right direction, and three such lively number nines will aid his cause.
Other factors, such as the recent security given at first five-eighth, as well as a certain presence at eight man in the form of Kieran Read, might have accelerated the decision to name three halfbacks who could potentially have a decade of Test rugby ahead of them.
Dan Carter, once unchallenged as the premier number ten, has Aaron Cruden and Beauden Barrett as his established understudies, the former now a two-time Super Rugby winner and regular starter for the All Blacks, giving an assuredness at first five that will allow the likes of Tawera Kerr-Barlow and TJ Perenara to more than likely make their Test debuts in The Investec Rugby Championship.
Hansen, as he did last year, has again shown he knows that continued development will ensure that the All Blacks will ideally remain ahead of the curve, even if along the way some big names may need to give way, although rugby and the likes of Weepu, Victor Vito, Matt Todd and Ben Afeaki will know that a shift in the game if not their abilities on the field will result in potential changes in the makeup of the team, hence opening a selection door – if not for in the present, then in the future.
The All Blacks showed last season that a pace orientated mindset at the base of the ruck was an important factor in conquering international rugby, and for now, Weepu’s proven ability, power and tenaciousness has given way to speed and youth.
Hansen said but did not say that the World Champions were only going to try and increase the tempo, and had told Weepu that he would need to adjust accordingly, as the Blues veteran had done more than once before.
"We felt how we are trying to play the game and with the speed of the game, Piri is struggling with that. His last game confirmed our thoughts," Hansen said.
"We asked him to go away and try and sort out that issue. It's the speed of the game, getting from A to B to C. Because of that his skill-set is not flourishing…when the game is played at a pace that suits him, he can really dictate a game."