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NZ world cup squad article...

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    NZ world cup squad article...

    <H1>NZ Herald</H1>
    <H1>Rugby: Bolters are out in quest for cup</H1>

    By next month it will be impossible to slip out for a quiet beer without hearing chatter about who should make the All Black World Cup squad.

    Debating All Black selections is a national pastime. In World Cup years, it's a whole new sport, with every man and his dog attempting to identify the as-yet-undiscovered test superstar who is going to emerge from nowhere and reach October a household name.

    Everyone loves guessing the bolter. But come July 22, when Graham Henry reveals the 30 players he's taking to France, it's unlikely there will be any new caps.

    Even allowing for this management panel's capacity to spring surprises, the chances of a new cap going to France are probably more infinitesimal than unlikely.

    Since coming into the job a month after the last, doomed World Cup campaign in 2003, Henry has selected 63 players.

    The net has been cast wider than in any previous regime.

    And that's because Henry has been indulged in a manner none of his predecessors ever were. In May 2005, Henry and his assistants, Steve Hansen and Wayne Smith, had their contracts extended through to 2007.

    <!- Insert advert ->
    <DIV ="advert">Following the heartache of 2003, the New Zealand Rugby Union made winning the 2007 World Cup an overriding priority.</DIV>

    There were big plans for the All Black brand. There was an awareness that future broadcast and sponsorship negotiations would be all the smoother if the All Blacks were world champions. Above all there was a desperation to let the heroes of 1987 rest in peace and harvest a new crop of legends.

    Henry, Smith and Hansen signed their contract extensions with one explicit goal - win the 2007 World Cup. Unlike those who had gone before, they were granted a licence to look beyond the present and plan for the future.

    No one would have been happy if the All Blacks had dropped a bucket load of tests, but there was an acceptance within the NZRU that they had to grant the coaches some leeway.

    If a couple of games were lost along the way in the name of preparation and development, so be it.

    With that remit, the panel were able to plan two years ahead.

    They could set objectives for each individual campaign knowing that come June 2007, they were going to flick the selection switch from experimental to serious.

    The latter half of 2005 and 2006 were about identifying the potential options. That's when they were able to select players such as Campbell Johnstone and Soseni Anesi, get a feel they weren't quite ready and move on to the next option which, in the case of the former, was the capable Neemia Tialata.

    That's the way it was. There was room for trial and error. James Ryan, Chris Masoe and Conrad Smith were trialled and looked the goods while Steven Bates, Casey Laulala and Jerome Kaino didn't quite convince.

    By the end of last year, Henry and his team had extensive dossiers on every serious All Black contender, knowing the focus in 2007 would be honing those options by building the combinations.

    As a consequence there just doesn't appear to be an opportunity for any uncapped players to force their way into the selection frame in the final year of the World Cup cycle.

    Henry has spent the last two years trying to determine exactly which players could handle test football.

    The challenge this year is not identifying the bolter among the 30 - it is working out which of the 63 already capped players Henry will shoe-horn into his 30-man World Cup squad.

    The coaches need to believe fully in all 30 players and can't afford to discover, in France, that someone isn't quite All Black material.

    That happened in 2003 when, following an injury to Tana Umaga's knee, it was discovered that his heir-apparent, Ma'a Nonu, was too green to cop