Hansen calls for an improved effort - or else
The sight of All Blacks lock Brodie Retallick limping out of training yesterday afternoon added another twist to the build-up to tomorrow night's test against France.
North Canterbury born-and-bred Retallick appeared to be in some discomfort as he departed the practice at AMI Stadium to have his upper-thigh iced.
The problem is believed to be a hamstring strain. After stretches with team medical staff the 22-year-old retired to the training sheds.
The All Blacks could not be reached for comment last night.
Sam Whitelock, who was not considered because of a fractured ring finger, immediately replaced Retallick in the second row where he packed down alongside Jeremy Thrush in the scrums.
If Retallick is ruled out, Thrush, who sat on the bench when the All Blacks won the first test 23-13 at Eden Park last weekend, may be promoted to the starting side alongside Luke Romano.
Although Whitelock was expected to be rested to allow his finger to heal - he was expected to be available for the third test in New Plymouth next weekend - coach Steve Hansen may list him on the bench a week early.
The cracked digit appeared to cause Whitelock little discomfort.
With Ali Williams retiring from international rugby before the French series, Hansen opted to list just three fit locks in his squad.
Steven Luatua, who has impressed at blindside flanker for the Blues, is a candidate who can provide cover for the second row.
Meanwhile, Hansen yesterday morning scraped a line the sand by stating he expects an improved performance tomorrow night.
Although content with last weekend's victory - satisfied enough to not make any changes to the starting side - he indicated excuses about about rustiness and new combinations may not be so warmly received.
There could be potential for red ink to be slashed through a few names before the third final test in New Plymouth.
And that could lead to some players returning to their Super Rugby franchises wondering just where they sit in Hansen's plans ahead of the Rugby Championship.
"We said last week the game was hugely important, it was what we needed," Hansen emphasised. "We needed to test all the things off the training field and off the whiteboard that we had been working on. Some of them weren't perfect and we didn't expect them to be.
"What we do expect this time, though, is an improvement."
It is not just analysing the French that has been occupying Hansen's thoughts.
Yesterday he opened-up about how the All Blacks are supporting wing Julian Savea as he deals with the ramifications of an assault case.
Hansen also commented on the speculation about whether Rene Ranger will fork over a small fortune to reverse his way out of his contract with French club Montpellier. He also unleashed a jab at those critics who believe fullback Israel Dagg's form slump warranted him being ditched.
Few fullbacks in the world take the high ball as well as Dagg, Hansen stated.
"It doesn't matter who you are, you can't be magic all the time. His core jobs were done very, very well. The magic bits will come when the moment for him to do that becomes available and the French didn't give him any (opportunities)."
His coach may be giving him his support but Dagg does not live in a bubble.
He will know the nation's rugby supporters will be watching to see if he can re-pay his coach's faith.
- © Fairfax NZ News
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