Explosive wing Hosea Gear looks set to get his opportunity to impress the All Black selectors this weekend after watching Sitiveni Sivivatu and Zac Guildford turn in impressive performances in the last two weeks.
Gear has been sidelined with a recurring hamstring injury since the end of the Super Rugby competition, and with time running out before the World Cup begins the Tri-Nations clash against the Wallabies in Auckland this weekend appears to be his big chance to nail down the All Black No.11 jersey.
Sivivatu was given a back-door pass into the All Black squad as injury cover but his impressive work rate against Fiji two weeks ago made many sit up and take notice after the Chiefs flyer's indifferent Super Rugby season. However, his chances seem to have taken another blow after he limped off the training field with a knee injury this week.
Guildford staked his claim for inclusion in coach Graham Henry's final World Cup squad by scoring a brace against a bewildered Springbok team in Wellington last weekend, and the Bledisloe Cup clash against Australia this weekend appears to be Gear's chance to impress.
The powerful outside back would have preferred to warm up to the task by playing a game or two in the National Provincial Championship before he pulled on the All Black jersey again, but with just five weeks to go before the World Cup he has been forced to put his injury woes behind him and make the step up.
"You want to be out there but I've had to deal with the hand I've been dealt. I've focused on trying to get my rehab right and now it's about moving on to my next task," he told stuff.co.nz.
For Gear, the prospect of lining up against the Wallabies backline is not as daunting as trying to outshine his rivals in the All Black squad and he knows he will have to produce a top performance to win favour with the selectors.
He commented: "The way Zac [Guildford] and Cory [Jane] played in the weekend I see them as the best wingers in the world so it's a good opportunity to measure myself up against those guys.
"Every time you put the black jersey on you've got to have that mindset that it can be taken away from you in any second," he added.
Gear has taken heart from his Hurricanes teammate Jane's two-try performance against the Springboks in Wellington, and he is looking to make a similar impact at Eden Park on Saturday.
"We're sort of in the same boat. He's proved you don't need a lot of game-time to play well. There's evidence right there that it can be done," he said.
Judging by the way the All Blacks lined up at training on Tuesday, the backline should be littered with players from the underwhelming Hurricanes team that battled their way through Super Rugby this year.
Piri Weepu shared the scrumhalf duties with Andy Ellis as Jimmy Cowan looked on from the sidelines while the established centre combination of Ma'a Nonu and Conrad Smith look set to continue outside Dan Carter with Jane and Gear running on the wings.
Although Gear and Smith are the only players who have not left the Hurricanes as yet (Gear has yet to decide and is apparently considering an offer to join the Highlanders), the physical powerhouse said that making his comeback surrounded by familiar faces would make things a little easier.
Gear commented: "If I'm selected and out there with the Hurricanes boys at least I've got a pretty good relationship with them. I've played with them for the last few years. We understand each other's play and that's positive.
"I got up to full pace last week, which is good news. It's a matter of getting a bit faster now," he added.
Meanwhile Tuesday's training session also saw the return of outside backs Richard Kahui, Israel Dagg and Isaia Toeava - which makes the injured Sivivatu's hopes look even slimmer.
The versatile Toeava returned to provincial rugby last week and is set to turn out for Auckland against North Harbour this weekend.
"If he trains well with the All Blacks this week, all going well the plans will be that he'll play against North Harbour on Sunday," Auckland coach Mark Anscombe said.
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