Thus it is that this week, because he’s named in the 22 to take on Portugal in Lyon tomorrow, we meet Andy Ellis. Ellis is the surprise packet on this All Black trip, Graham Henry’s joker, if you like.
Piri Weepu was the third scrum-half expected to travel to the World Cup as back-up to Byron Kelleher and Brendon Leonard. Instead, after an impressive tournament with the Junior All Blacks in the IRB Pacific Nations Cup in May/June this year, Henry went for young Ellis.
“At the start of that campaign the coaches came in and said they wanted to let us know there were still places for grabs, if you were prepared to work hard,” Ellis explained.
“I did, I really knuckled down, and the great thing was that they were prepared to stick to their word and make the changes.”
That work included improving his break, improving his ability to run at players and take them on.
But his greatest asset is his pass, fast and accurate — just what’s needed to get this backline moving.
And so, to everyone’s surprise, he found himself on the bus, a full member of the senior squad.
Mind you, it’s one thing being on the bus; knowing your place is quite another.
This is a hugely experienced All Black 30, three years in the making; you don’t come in at the last minute and start throwing shapes.
“It’s been good,” he says of his inclusion in the squad. “They’ve got this really good philosophy, they accept young guys. I feel really welcome, there is a great team atmosphere and environment. It doesn’t matter whether I’m hanging out with Anton (Oliver) and Ruby (Reuben Thorne), or kicking around with Brendon (Leonard) and Nicky (Nick Ellis), it’s the same both ways.
“Everyone is really friendly and good mates.
“In saying that I wouldn’t run down the bus and jump in the back seat.!”
Why is that, Andy? Who sits in the back seat?
“Anton, Reuben, Doug Howlett.”
And your own position?
“I’m right at the front.”
He’s not the youngest in this squad, that would be centre/winger Isaia Toeava, a mere 21. He’s not even the youngest scrum-half — Leonard is more than a year younger. But he does have the least number of full caps and will be winning just his third should he see action tomorrow.
Given such circumstances, it’s good to see that the All Black management still feel confident enough in the youngster to allow him to meet the media without an ‘advisor’ in sight.
It is good, too, to meet a guy who is absolutely loving this experience, all his dreams being fulfilled.
“Yeah, especially staying in a place like this (Marseille, luxury beachfront hotel), the experiences we’ve had so far, the level of training, the hype around our team — it’s overwhelming, awesome.”