Some interesting interview from the GREAT jon preston... Cowan first-choice No 9 for Preston 29 September 2006 By DARYL HOLDEN Former All Black Jon Preston has spiced up the halfback debate, saying Southland's Jimmy Cowan has the best pass in the country and could be the World Cup test starter next year. Cowan has been ranked No 3 in the All Blacks' setup this season, behind Byron Kelleher and Piri Weepu, and some critics think the Stags' halfback will struggle to retain his national team spot. However, former New Zealand halfback Preston is a Cowan fan because of his rapidly improving, rocket-like pass. Cowan especially caught Preston's eye in his first test match start for the All Blacks, in the close loss to South Africa in Rustenburg three weeks ago, and then again in his return to the domestic scene in the Stags' Air New Zealand Cup repechage win over Taranaki last week. "I was really impressed with his display in the test match in South Africa, I must say, principally with his delivery of the ball off the deck," said Preston, who played 10 tests and 27 games for the All Blacks at halfback and first five-eighth from 1991 to 1997. "For my mind, I don't think the clearance has been a particularly strong area of New Zealand halfback play in recent times. There's a lot of strong halfbacks around; some big, powerful men and there's some good runners around but I think we've been perhaps lacking with decision-making and the speed of the clearance but I thought Jimmy Cowan displayed all that in a number of instances in that test match, in particular. "The other thing about him that I like is that he does a bit of everything. He is quite a big, strong halfback and, to a degree, I think you have to be like that at test level these days. "He's also got a high workrate. You see him pull of a lot of crucial covering tackles and he still has a kicking game. "So there's all these sort of skills to his game." Preston believes Cowan's option taking and running has also improved but it was his crisp passing that impressed in the South African test, being a step up from the delivery of Kelleher and Weepu. Preston liked Cowan's limited movement and speed in clearing the ball from the ground. "He also has the speed through the air and good length on his pass," said Preston, who works as a rugby comments person for Sky TV. "I think I commented during a recent game that he gave Dan Carter just a split second extra time in that South African test. "And the way defences are these days â€“ most of them are offside to start with â€“ they rush up and put massive pressure on inside backs and try and shut down their time and space. "So any (extra) split second makes a big difference." For all that, Preston thinks Weepu "probably" had the ability to be the best halfback in New Zealand but his up and down form was a worry. So Preston sees no reason 24-year-old Cowan can't continue to improve and be the All Blacks' first-choice halfback by the World Cup next year. However, Preston is also a fan of Canterbury's Andrew Ellis because, like Cowan, he has a good pass. He would love to see both Ellis and Cowan selected for the All Blacks' end-of-year tour. "Just because I don't think they're going to see any more out of the other two (Weepu and Kelleher)," Preston said. "I think they pretty much know what they're going to get from them." Taken from Stuff.co.nz If you were Henry and you were choosing your ranking for best 3 halfbacks... who would they be? I'd be inclined to go: Cowan Ellis Weepu Cowan and Ellis for speed of pass for Carter... Weepu for his composure.