Matt Todd to hone ball-runner act
Tireless Crusaders flanker Matt Todd is looking to add a different aspect to his game during this year's Super Rugby competition.
Long missing from the talented No 7's repertoire has been a strong ball-running game - something he is looking to change in 2013.
Already it has been noticeable in the Crusaders' two games this season, with the tough 24-year-old a more recognisable ball carrier.
"I'm looking to get my hands on the ball a lot more this year," Todd said.
"When I looked back on last year, it was something I decided I needed to work on. You are a lot more valuable to the team if you are able to be a strong ball-carrying player, and for me it's always been about being able to contribute in as many ways as I can."
He may never reach the ball- carrying heights of a Kieran Read or Luke Romano, but having the ability to make solid ground is a prerequisite of any good flanker.
And with All Blacks captain Richie McCaw unavailable for the three-test series against the French in June, the emerging No 7 will challenge for the black jersey in his absence.
Chiefs flanker Sam Cane made a decent impression during his short stint there last year and is the most logical to slot into the position in McCaw's absence, but outside of Cane there is a plethora of talented flankers.
"I guess with Richie not playing there is an open position there in the All Blacks maybe, but for me it's just about consistency and the Super Rugby level and putting my hand up each week.
"If I do that regularly and perform well each week then the higher honours and that will take care of themselves."
New Zealand is hardly lacking in quality flanker talent and Todd is just one of many players who may conceivably do enough in the next couple of months to really push their cause to Steve Hansen and his right-hand men.
Blues breakaway Luke Braid made a solid start to the season, and the Highlanders' John Hardie is another player of promise. "Every week in this competition you go up against a really good No 7 and it keeps you on your toes and has you working hard, too."
Todd will have his work cut out for him this weekend when the Crusaders attempt to bounce back from two early-season losses in their first home game of the season against the Bulls at AMI Stadium in Addington.
Talented South African flanker Arno Botha has been in superb form for his side in the opening rounds of the competition and sets a high benchmark for all flankers to try to achieve.