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Ten players to watch

Friday, February 09, 2018

Carlos Spencer (Blues)

Good grief. At 42 years of age "King Carlos" cannot expect to dip into a bag full of tricks, as he once did when he ruled Eden Park. Father time won't allow that. He should also be vigilant about showing the sideline to the kids with fast feet. Playmaker Spencer played his last test for the All Blacks in 2004. He looks in great nick, though.

Conrad Smith (PAU)

The last time we saw Smith in the All Blacks' uniform was when he was replaced by Sonny Bill Williams during the halftime break of the World Cup final in 2015. He wasn't happy about it either, and who could blame him? Now Smith, 36, returns with the French club he joined after the global tournament.

Elliot Dixon (Highlanders)

The former All Black didn't have a memorable 2017. After three test appearances the previous year, flanker Dixon failed to breach the standards that demanded selection for the national side. Playing tens should suit the athletic back rower.

Tyrel Lomax (Highlanders)

NZ Rugby won the fight for prop Lomax. A year ago he was contracted to the Rebels and had played for the Australian under-20 side in the world championships. Then NZ Rugby came knocking. Now Lomax is providing depth on the tighthead side of the scrum.

Julian Savea (Hurricanes)

Rugby players are trained by PR types to babble cliches. Words like "challenges", "processes" and "goals" are often woven into statements to send us all into snoozeland. Savea needs to do all his yapping on the paddock if he is to win a recall by the All Blacks selectors. Simple as that. Having been appointed captain of the Canes the wing has another reason to want to produce some gold at Suncorp.

Jone Macilai (Crusaders)

There's no shortage of speed in the Crusaders squad: George Bridge, Manasa Mataele and Braydon Ennor are among those who former All Blacks selector Earle Kirton would call "Gassy Guys". Macilai has also got some toe. Hardly sighted in Super Rugby last because of injury.

Will Genia (Rebels)

The halfback was one of the Wallabies best last year. Returned from playing club footy in France and blew away any doubts as to whether he was just coming back to Aussie to coast. Should be a decent buy for the Melbourne-based team.

Digby Ioane (Panasonic Wild Knights)

The Crusaders didn't get much mileage out of "Diggers" last season because of injuries. Now he is playing under Robbie Deans in Japan. Ioane is an entertainer, and just as importantly the outside back still loves to score tries. Age isn't on his side but he's an enthusiastic type.

Taqele Naiyaravoro (Waratahs)

This bloke is a tank. He remains in the Sydney-based side as coach Daryl Gibson searches for the answer to the problems that beset the team during their miserable run in Super Rugby last year. If he in good shape, Naiyaravoro, at around 120kg, can be a beast.

Andrew Walker (Brumbies)

In 1992 Walker made his NRL first-grade debut for the St George Dragons and eight years later he hopped over to the rah-rah code when he was signed by the Brumbies. In 2004 he was back with the leaguies, playing for the Manly Sea Eagles. At 44 he's no pup.

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