Thomson in for Vito, Cane on All Blacks bench
CHIEF RUGBY WRITER
Steady with a dash of youth – All Blacks coach Steve Hansen has paid Ireland due respect in making just two enforced changes to his squad for Saturday's second test in Christchurch.
Blindside flanker Adam Thomson takes the injured Victor Vito's place in the starting side, while young Bay of Plenty openside Sam Cane could make his test debut via the reserves bench.
Rumours of a change at second five-eighth proved off the mark with Sonny Bill Williams given a chance to build on his influential performance during the 42-10 first test win in Auckland.
Hansen might have toyed with further experimentation after seeing his side run in five tries at Eden Park but, instead, has given his combinations a chance to improve further and seal the series, sending his players a message that performance will be rewarded.
It shows Hansen is not getting carried away with the more impressive aspects of his first match as head coach.
"Once again, for us it's about our preparation, getting clarity early in the week and building in intensity so we can have a performance we can all be proud of on Saturday," he said.
That will be of paramount importance in Christchurch where earthquakes have deprived fans of test rugby since the Bledisloe Cup match in August 2010. The city also lost the ability to host games at last year's Rugby World Cup and yesterday fans showed their support by snapping up the last of the 21,000 tickets to AMI Stadium.
The All Blacks were looking for improvements but he also expected the "never-say-die" Irish to be better.
It will be fascinating to see how Cane is used. The 20-year-old Chiefs player has been ordained as a possible successor for captain Richie McCaw, and gets his chance after Vito injured ligaments in his knee at Eden Park, sidelining him for up to five weeks.
If the test is safe, Cane may get a decent chance at openside, but it will be interesting to see whether McCaw moves to the blindside, where he may eventually end up in years to come.
Thomson, a try-scorer in Auckland, will play his 26th test and will look for a big one considering Liam Messam will be back to apply pressure ahead of the third test in Hamilton next week.
Hooker Hika Elliot remains as cover for Andrew Hore with Keven Mealamu, as signalled, being held back a week to recover fully from his calf injury and similarly midfielder Ma'a Nonu gets another week to recharge his batteries.
Hansen may well make more substantial changes during this series but, for now, he is displaying a ruthless streak, one that will be popular in most circles, particularly if the side plays as well in the south as it did in the north.
HOW THEY LINE UP
All Blacks: Israel Dagg, Zac Guildford, Conrad Smith, Sonny Bill Williams, Julian Savea, Dan Carter, Aaron Smith, Kieran Read, Richie McCaw (c), Adam Thomson, Sam Whitelock, Brodie Retallick, Owen Franks, Andrew Hore, Tony Woodcock. Reserves: Hika Elliot, Ben Franks, Sam Cane, Ali Williams, Piri Weepu, Aaron Cruden, Ben Smith
Follow Hurricanes news on Twitter @dp_hurricanes
- © Fairfax NZ News
Who gets your vote as greatest All Black of all time?Related story: With Boks beaten, time for revenge over England