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Battle royale to continue for Hore

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Sportal.co.nz     30 May 2012     Getty Images

It's been a familiar scene in recent years with the pair both enjoying sustained periods as the first-choice rake under Graham Henry.

Hore was in dominant form over 2008, when he was named New Zealand player of the year, and again in 2009.

But a dislocated shoulder suffered during the 2010 Super Rugby season opened the door again for Mealamu who retained the starting duties right through to last year's World Cup.

But now a calf injury has stymied the Blues rake's season and Hore look set to get first crack at the Irish in the three-Test Steinlager series next month.

"That's the great strength of the All Blacks is that there is plenty of fight for each position," said Hore. "Kevvy and I are good mates on and off the field. It makes it a lot easier when the guy who is pushing you hard and who you are pushing hard you can have a chat to after training.

"He's probably one of the nicest guys in rugby and it's not too hard to be one or two when he's around."

The uncertainty surrounding Mealamu's return to rugby saw Chiefs hooker Hika Elliot brought into the All Blacks training camp in Wellington.

New coach Steve Hansen is aware that both Hore and Mealamu are over 30 and that some younger rakes will need to be blooded in the years leading up to the 2015 World Cup in England and Hore is comfortable with that.

"That's always been a strength of the All Blacks. We came along and Anton Oliver still helped us out. The older boys have got to pass on their knowledge," said the 60-Test hooker.

"It's a change from when you used to sit there and not tell anyone anything and you kept everything a secret.

"The whole thing in the All Blacks is that we help each other out. If a young fella can come along and we can help him out we're doing our bit."

That's not to say the gnarly veteran is ready to simply give up his New Zealand jersey or Highlanders one for that matter.

"I'm still keen enough and things are going pretty well. If I can hold my form together and the coaches keep picking me then I'll keep going," he said.

"The old man is not barking too loudly about going home to the form so I'll see how I go.

"You see some of the young fellas coming along like Dane Coles who are playing pretty good footy as well.

"To be here is always a thrill and hopefully Kevvy and I can hold in there another couple of years and keep fighting for that starting spot."