Inferno awaits All Black deputies

THE All Blacks have identified "clear-cut" deputies for captain Richie McCaw and Daniel Carter and both will be sent into the test inferno during the Tri-Nations.

National coach Graham Henry dropped those tasty nuggets yesterday during a wide-ranging briefing on the year ahead, then refused to elaborate on any of the understudy decisions.

It was a thrust-and-parry day from Henry as he delivered planning details for the opening test against Fiji at Carisbrook, the Tri-Nations then the World Cup but sidestepped specific inquiries about players' selection odds.

The backup first five-eighths would be more a specialist in that role than the man asked to occupy the No 7 duties. There was ongoing debate whether someone with versatile skills such as Adam Thomson, Liam Messam or Kieran Read could back up McCaw.

Carter's understudy would be very familiar with the five-eighths' duties, have plenty of experience and probably have played test rugby in that role.

"Ideally we would like to play the backup five-eighths in one of the Tri-Nations tests," Henry agreed.

"We can't take the risk of going into sudden-death Rugby World Cup and having to play somebody who has not played a big test match in all of 2011. So I just think we need to be pragmatic there and make good decisions."

Take your pick - Luke McAlister, Piri Weepu, Stephen Donald, Aaron Cruden, Colin Slade - Henry mentioned them all as Carter's backup, and their attributes, without any clues about their pecking order. When the All Blacks assemble in a month, the panel will assess who needs more rugby and who needs a rest.

"Some guys have played too much footy and others have not played enough, we need to look at them as individuals and how we peak them for late September-October," Henry said.

Some ideas were sorted:

The World Cup squad would have a 16 forwards/14 backs split with three hookers and three halfbacks.

The All Black coaches would retain the same portfolios as last year.

Isaia Toeava would return when the stress fracture in his hip had healed and, like Slade, Tony Woodcock and perhaps McCaw, could get in some matchplay in the ITM Cup.

Israel Dagg had ripped his tendon from the bone in his quad and the best guess on his return was the end of July.

Henry's great anxiety was the referees' consistency in the World Cup.

Those controlling games north of the equator (there will be six at RWC) allowed greater contests at the tackle from defending sides while those from this part of the globe (four referees at RWC) started well in the Super 15, getting tacklers away at the breakdown, then lost that focus and were now trying to reclaim it.

"We need consistency from all 10 officials so all teams and coaches can work to the same standards," Henry said.

If props kept their heads above hips in scrums and pushed square there was no drama, but referees allowed tightheads to bore in.

"We need to improve by 15 per cent from last year," said Henry of the scrum, lineout, breakdown and tackle.

He said his job and that of fellow selectors Steve Hansen and Wayne Smith was to reach that level so they could bring their best game.

"It might be we kick the ball more, it might be, I'm not saying it will be."

All Blacks tests before the World Cup

* All Blacks v Fiji
Dunedin, July 22

* All Blacks v South Africa
Wellington, July 30

* All Blacks v Australia
Auckland, August 6

* All Blacks v South Africa
Port Elizabeth, August 20

* All Blacks v Australia
Brisbane, August 27

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