ABs coach Steve Hansen OK as his stars realign
All Blacks coach Steve Hansen has no problem with the Crusaders playing Dan Carter and Richie McCaw out of their preferred positions in the lead-up to the Rugby Championship season.
Carter has been playing at second five eighth in the Crusaders' run-in to the Super Rugby final with Colin Slade retained in the No 10 jersey.
McCaw returned from a rib injury at blindside flanker for the Crusaders' commanding semifinal victory over the Sharks with coach Todd Blackadder plumping for Matt Todd on the openside.
Slade, Todd and Crusaders midfield back Ryan Crotty were deemed to be the three unlucky omissions when Hansen named his 31-man test squad in Christchurch this morning.
Carter, predictably, returned to the first-five ranks for Slade. Hansen has rewarded performance in the All Black jersey over Super rugby form in choosing Chiefs flanker Sam Cane - who missed the England series with a knee injury - ahead of Todd, who he said had been "outstanding'' in the Super semifinal.
Crotty has also missed out to Highlanders centre Malakai Fekitoa in the midfield mix with the coaches opting to bolster the outside back division and using Carter as potential cover at second five-eighth.
Blindside flanker/lock Steven Luatua returns for Victor Vito, who has a neck injury, and Auckland wing Charles Piutau is back after missing the England series with a knee injury.
Hansen said he would "obviously'' have preferred to see Carter playing first-five for the Crusaders. "But at the same time, I've got no problem with him playing 12 for the Crusaders because that's the best place for him to be playing in that team. Colin's playing really well and they need a 12 so, no issue.''
Nor did Hansen have any qualms about the Crusaders using McCaw - the All Blacks' first-choice openside flanker since 2001 - in the No.6 jersey.
"I'm just happy he's playing. And after the way he played [against the Sharks], I'm sure everybody in Christchurch is too. The performance of their three loose forwards on Saturday night was outstanding," Hansen said.
"Matt Todd was brilliant, Reado [Kieran Read] was right back to his very best and, once again, Ricko showed us, five weeks out, had the presence of mind, in a game played at terrific pace, with five minutes to go, or less than that, he had every right to try and slow the game down, he rushes off over the sideline, quick throw-in and the Crusaders score at the other end.''
Hansen said it took Carter "a game or two'' to settle back in which was expected after his six-month rugby sabbatical.
"But the pleasing thing is he looks really sharp, his body's allowing him to do the things we expect him to be able to do and he wants to be able to do.
"When you look back to what was happening to him prior to that it was frustration after frustration after frustration. He couldn't string three games together. He's now done that, he looks good, he looks sharp. The next step is the test arena and we'll see how he goes there.''
Hansen rang Crotty, Todd and Slade to explain their exclusion.
"It's not [a call] they want to sit on the end of and have a big, happy chappy phone message but they got very clear messages on what they have to do and where they sit.
"It was a really tough team to select because we've got a number of people that are playing well. But unfortunately, we've had to make some tough decisions and people have missed out.
"Hopefully those guys go on and have a great week for the Crusaders and get something out of it at the end of the week by winning that final.''
Hansen said the All Blacks coaches sweated over the decision to select Cane over Todd as McCaw's backup.
"But in the past when people are injured and have played as well as Sammy has played [for the All Blacks], we've always supported them. We've got a philosophy that you can't lose any ground when you're injured, you lose the ground when you're on the playing field.
"He's worked hard to get back. He's had a game last week and we expect him to be playing well when he gets his opportunities.''
He said Todd was playing very well and would get another opportunity, but the selectors considered McCaw, "probably one of the greatest All Blacks ever'' and Cane, "someone we believe could go on to be a great All Black'' were better.
The All Blacks will hold a two-day camp in Auckland starting tomorrow but the Crusaders' eight All Blacks won't be involved due to Super rugby final duty.
Hansen said some extra players would be brought in "to give us a chance to have a look at them''.
Hansen made today's team announcement at the High School Old Boys club in Christchurch where he started his coaching career in 1993.