Injured Dan Carter leaves All Blacks gap
No Dan Carter, a shaky Aaron Cruden and a cranky Springboks side.
These are the major topics for Steve Hansen to chew on as the All Blacks inch further towards Saturday's sold-out clash of the titans against South Africa in Dunedin.
Following Saturday night's 21-5 win over Argentina in Wellington Hansen declared first five-eighth Carter's calf injury will prevent him facing a Springboks side stung by their 26-19 defeat to the Wallabies in Perth.
Given the way the tactically naive All Blacks bumbled against Los Pumas at the Cake Tin, Hansen's anxieties would have been tempered by Carter's return against the Boks.
He can forget that now.
Yesterday Hansen scratched his highly-valued No 10, stating it was too risky to aggravate the 89-test veteran's dodgy calf. Cruden, who struggled with his handling and decision-making against Argentina, is again expected to suit up while the raw Beauden Barrett will be on the bench.
A disappointed Cruden acknowledged his performance was ropey as he struggled in wet and windy conditions and his coach didn't let him off the hook either.
"Harsh on himself? I suppose that's fair because he started off pretty average," Hansen stated. "But the pleasing thing was he grew into the game. He is a young five-eighth and it was very testing conditions for both him and Aaron Smith. Both of them will get a lot out of that test match."
What will Hansen want out of Cruden against a Springboks side who will probably persevere with the vastly experienced Morne Steyn at first five?
"More control, more consistency. Better decision-making. But that is the whole team. But nines and 10s, they are the main computers of the team. They run the side and move them around the field . . . We didn't play smart football in the first half."
Hansen questioned why Cruden allowed those outside him to attempt to play so expansively in such dreadful conditions during the first half: "As a result, we were pretty wobbly at times."
Carter would have steadied the ship. And the early decision to withdraw was to ensure he got the best treatment available.
Hansen added yesterday: "[The decision] will give the calf a good opportunity to come right - so we can take him off his legs, really, to make sure he is not trying to do two things. He is actually just trying to get it better, than get it better to play."
Hansen is expected to make minimal changes in Dunedin, although it seems certain Liam Messam will replace Victor Vito at blindside flanker.
Halfback Smith can also expect to feel the heat ahead of the Springboks match.
Although Smith, at times, deserved better protection from his forwards, and copped some heavy fire from the Argentinians, the No 9 was also guilty of some sloppy delivery from the base.
"But he has got to learn, too, that sometimes he might have to dive-pass in those conditions. That is something he might have to do," Hansen confirmed. "And if you think back to Super Rugby he got caught a few times in similar situations. It is something he needs to add to his game."
Carter will stay with the squad in Dunedin and should be fit to play Argentina on September 30.
- © Fairfax NZ News
Is Richie McCaw now the greatest All Black of all time?