All Blacks coach Steve Hansen says he will be making minimal if any changes to his side as they look to extend their Bledisloe Cup reign to 10 years at Eden Park on Saturday.
There is a question mark over loosehead prop Tony Woodcock, who injured a rib during the 27-19 win over the Wallabies in Sydney at the start of a long and congested Rugby Championship campaign.
But Hansen made it clear the plan was to give existing combinations a chance to add some polish in Auckland.
“We'll pick the best team we think for each game depending how people come through the previous match, but it's unlikely there will be too many changes in the next week I wouldn't think," Hansen said yesterday.
“It [continuity] just gives us an opportunity to get some miles under the belt as combinations and as a team. There might have to be one or two changes due to circumstances, but I shouldn't think there will be many.”
Hansen said that thinking had played a part in the coaching staff's limited use of their bench last Saturday at ANZ Stadium where lock Brodie Retallick was the only reserve to get any significant game time.
“We probably could have put someone like Andrew Hore on earlier, but we just chose not to. We were pretty comfortable how they were going and they got a fair bit of work in as a group over 80 minutes.
“That's the group that's going to more than likely start the next 80 minutes and we figured we were happy with what we saw and what we were getting.”
Hansen said it would remain unclear how serious Woodcock's injury was till he had been further assessed today.
“He's sore and we won't really know till he does some activity [today] how bad it's going to be so we can't really say much more than that till we get a clear picture, but he's definitely pretty sore.”
Ben Franks, Wyatt Crockett and Charlie Faumuina are the other props in the Rugby Championship squad.
Hansen remained relaxed about the errors his side had made in Sydney, saying the attack would improve with time in the saddle.
He was more effusive about the defence and singled out the loose forward trio, midfield and tighthead prop Owen Franks as examples of the team's efforts.
“I thought Liam [Messam] and Reado [Kieran Read] and Richie [McCaw] were very good defensively, very physical and Ma'a [Nonu] and Sonny [Bill Williams] as a combination were physical.
“And then Owen Franks made 15 tackles, so everyone across the board did their job defensively.”
The All Blacks are in a strong position after picking up points away from home and now have the luxury of taking aim at a damaged Wallabies outfit at a ground they have not won at since 1986.
Chiefs halfback Tawera Kerr-Barlow and Hurricanes first five-eighth Beauden Barrett will again join the squad with Auckland academy players also brought in to create fully opposed training.
Injured centre Conrad Smith will also spend the week with the squad while injured locks Ali Williams and Craig Clarke are likely to come in at some point to continue their rehabilitation around the group.
Hansen said he was unsure how the Australian selectors would respond to their defeat, but didn't see the possible loss of openside David Pocock to a knee injury as having a major effect.
“Well, he's their captain isn't he? He's someone they draw inspiration from and they depend on him to try to get turnover ball, but they're lucky in that they have two young opensides [Michael Hooper and Liam Gill] who are very good too.
“They might be able to do even more around the park as ball runners and so forth, but his leadership they will miss for sure.”
If Pocock is ruled out halfback Will Genia will take over the captaincy.
- © Fairfax NZ News
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