Smith: Weepu deserves to be back in black

Yahoo!Xtra Sport / Neil Reid
Yahoo Sport

All Black backs coach Wayne Smith says Piri Weepu is physically and mentally ready for a return to the test arena.

The 20-test veteran is set to be confirmed tomorrow in the test 22 to face the Wallabies at Eden Park on Saturday night, ending 12 months in the international wilderness.

Weepu is likely to take the spot of the injured Andy Ellis in the squad, with the current No 1-ranked halfback struggling with a rib injury. His back-up Jimmy Cowan is also an uncertain starter with a knee injury.

Despite being a member of last year's Tri Nations squad, Weepu was not selected among the three halfbacks taken to the 2007 World Cup.

His omission followed a late night bender along with several All Black squad members who weren't selected in the squad to play the final match of the Tri Nations.

Questions were also asked of his preparation towards the top-flight, including his diet.

But Smith said 12 months on from his World Cup omission, Weepu was now a changed man.

"We met with him probably a month ago to have a chat obviously with a view to look at his future," Smith said.

"And he was very good. He knew what he had to do, he didn't need to be rung up and told why he wasn't selected because he knew what he had to do and took it upon himself to make the changes in his game, his fitness and everything.

"And he is working hard at that.

"We are pleased with his attitude."

Smith said the wide-ranging heart-to-heart included covering his rugby omission, where his future lay and to ensure him he still had a pathway under the coaching trio that didn't select him for France 07.

"We wanted to let him know that," he said.

"You are never sure what the player's response is going to be in that situation. But he was very positive and showed us a bit of hunger."

Weepu was called up into the All Black camp on Sunday afternoon following the side's 34-19 loss to the Wallabies in Sydney on Saturday night.

Since the end of the Rebel Sport Super 14 the former test regular has impressed at times with the New Zealand Maori side.

Weepu said he had also done a lot of hard work in the gym to improve his fitness.

"After missing out last year (World Cup) and not being named at the start of this campaign it's pretty big to be back in the squad," he said.

"If I get the opportunity to play I'll be pushing and making sure I deserve to be in. I'll make sure that I work hard.

"There were a few things going wrong with weight and being fit. I've had to retrack and work a lot harder and I've been doing that."

He said he had not given further thought to his future, determined to play out the Air New Zealand Cup before deciding on sticking with the NZRU or heading off-shore.