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Yoda prepares to say farewell

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NZPA     10 Sep 2008     Getty Images

All Blacks coach Graham Henry, after naming Somerville in the No 3 jersey to face Australia, admitted his involvement in November's Grand Slam tour remained doubtful.

New Zealand's most-capped prop with 65 Tests to his name, Somerville has signed for English club Gloucester but isn't due to join them until December.

"He's eligible for selection if we require him, we've got to make sure we do that right," Henry said.

"It just depends on how everybody's travelling at that point in time. It's six weeks away and if we've got a problem with tighthead prop he may well tour.

"We're just trying to do what's right for both parties, really."

Somerville was coy on his immediate future after playing in the 101-14 win over Samoa last Wednesday.

The All Blacks coaches weren't so guarded when describing Somerville's contribution to the black jersey as he prepares to go out on a high with another Tri Nations victory.

"He's highly respected by the other fellas. They've got a high regard for him, he's everybody's mate. He's got very high standards and he expects high standards from other people," Henry said.

"He's one of the players who's been the backbone of the team for a long time and we'll miss him on the field and off the field. We'll miss his personality."

Somerville, with his ability to cover both sides of the scrum, will be New Zealand's second big propping loss in a year after Carl Hayman's departure to Newcastle.

Said All Blacks forwards coach Steve Hansen: "He's the most capped prop in New Zealand history so just to achieve that is a huge contribution on its own.

"His ability off the field as a leader is immense and that's the big gap we'll have to fill once he leaves."

Wairoa-born Somerville, 30, made his Test debut against Tonga in 2000 and this year passed Craig Dowd's record of 58 Tests at prop.