Nucifora backs Mealamu as the best



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Hurricanes hooker Andrew Hore has a growing fan base with many saying that he should be the first choice hooker for the All Blacks but Blues coach David Nucifora says emphatically that his hooker Keven Mealamu remains the best in the business.

The Blues coach this week issued an impassioned plea on behalf of his own hooker Keven Mealamu, strongly suggesting the pecking order among New Zealand’s leading No 2s had not had the makeover that some are promoting.

It is fairly predictable that a coach backs his players but it was the emphatic nature of Nucifora’s backing for Mealamu that makes his statement stand out.

Hore and Mealamu both look certainties to be named in the first All Blacks squad of the year on June 1, with Corey Flynn of the Crusaders probably the third choice after some mixed displays.

The question is who would start and therefore be the All Blacks first choice hooker. Hore has produced some fine form this year and has scored four tries to Mealamu’s one.

Some critics have even suggested the no-nonsense Hore has overtaken Mealamu as the best No 2 in the New Zealand game and deserves top billing when Graham Henry and co sit down to work out their first-choice lineup.

Nucifora, though, has been astounded to hear talk of Mealamu being overtaken by the Hurricane Hore and cautioned against such conjecture this week as he “endorsed” all three of his front-rowers (Woodcock, Mealamu and Afoa) as national contenders.

“I have read some things in the media the last few weeks about the hooking position which I find astounding,” said Nucifora on RugbyHeaven before heading south with the Blues for Saturday night’s clash against he Highlanders in Dunedin.

“I don’t know what some people have been looking at because Keven Mealamu has been absolutely brilliant for us week in, week out, and how anyone could not think he’s the best hooker in New Zealand leaves me dumbfounded.”

That’s a passionate sort of statement from Nucifora and suggests he’s concerned for his hooker’s status.

An edge that Hore could end up having over Mealamu is that Hurricanes are more likely to reach the play offs than the Blues which gives Hore further opportunities to impress the All Blacks coaches whereas Mealamu will have to rely on his reputation and what he has achieved so far this year.

Another player that Nucifora jumped to defend is also in the front row and Nucifora feels that Woodcock had more than answered any challenge that may have been laid at his feet by the ridiculous “myth” claims leveled by former Wallaby Andrew Blades.

“Tony Woodcock is playing as well as I’ve ever seen him play,” said Nucifora.

“And take his scrummaging out of that, he’s been magnificent around the field and loose. Also John Afoa has been the linchpin of our scrum and has come on in leaps and bounds.”

Nucifora is obviously proud of his players and says that the Blues front row, all with more than 50 Super rugby appearances under their belts, were a trio around whom this franchise should be rebuilt.

“You want to keep your experienced players. In a competition like this experience is everything. You need to hang on to those players because they’re worth their weight in gold. They’re essential for any team going forward.”

On that subject, Nucifora also took a decent dig at New Zealand’s contracting system which he felt had to change.

“There are some things that are challenging, and the number of players leaving New Zealand, and this team in particular, is one of them. For long-term planning you need to have better control of the whole contracting system.

“The sooner the contracting system changes here where franchises have control of that, and are then able to plan for the future, the better. That’s something that if it’s not being looked at already I’d be very surprised.”

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