By Willie Jackson
Seeing Richie McCaw back in action for the Crusaders over the past couple of weeks has rekindled memories of last year when the All Blacks were hanging on to their one-point lead over France in the Rugby World Cup final.
Richie was our hero – and now with his crook foot coming right he's probably on the verge of being a hero all over again.
That will depend, of course, on Steve Hansen deciding that he should be welcomed back into an All Blacks jersey when the Irish team arrives.
You can bet that Steve is still a big fan, partly because he'll still so grateful for what Richie delivered last season.
But you can't help worrying that gratitude might play too big a part when the selection panel is rounding up its new squad this season.
There's one problem in that a few of last year's heroes are now off the scene – like Brad Thorn, Stephen Donald and Jerome Kaino.
But the greater difficulty is that a lot more are still here but off the boil – like Ali Williams, Ma'a Nonu, Keven Mealamu, Jimmy Cowan and even superheroes like Dan Carter and Piri Weepu.
In fact there's only a handful of last year's squad who are firing on all cylinders, maybe only Kieran Read and Conrad Smith.
So if the All Blacks are to be our strongest team next month, then the selectors should be reaching for the new talent who're coming through the ranks and making many of the 2011 players look tired and second rate.
There's no better example than TJ Perenara who has taken over as the Hurricanes halfback after catching the eye last year with the New Zealand under-20s team.
His performance last weekend against the Blues and Piri Weepu was tremendous. It reminded me of the great Sid Going.
Like Sid, TJ can do anything on the field and there's no point in leaving him on the sidelines if his more seasoned rivals are just going through the motions.
The same goes for Brodie Retallick, a massive young lock forward for the Chiefs and the outstanding New Zealand player in that position now that Brad Thorn is overseas.
Steve Hansen should be taking a close look as well at other newcomers, especially Andre Taylor and Julian Savea from the Hurricanes. They're both lightning fast.
It's understandable if the selectors aren't in a hurry to pension off the players who helped give us such a thrill last year.
But All Blacks selection doesn't benefit from gratitude and nostalgia.
It's all to do with having a keen eye for talent and form, sometimes having a hard heart too – and having the guts to make the tough decisions.
Auckland Now, 11th May 2012