Barrett picked on merit alone, ABs coach says

GLENN MCLEAN
Last updated 05:00 21/06/2013
Steve Hansen
ROBERT CHARLES/Fairfax NZ

THE FUTURE: All Blacks coach Steve Hansen is flanked by Charles Piutau and Steven Luatua at yesterday’s press conference.

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Tomorrow night's test venue had nothing to do with the selection of Beauden Barrett and Conrad Smith, according to All Blacks coach Steve Hansen.

The Francis Douglas Memorial College old boys were both named in the squad to play France, with Smith set to start his 69th test, while Barrett will come off the bench for his first appearance in a black jersey at Yarrow Stadium.

"I don't think you can be sentimental when you are picking All Blacks teams," Hansen said.

"Barrett has earned his place on merit, hence that's why he is there.

"I don't think this selection group or any selection group has ever picked a side with the locality of the test match being the prime reason why you pick one [player]."

Barrett's stunning late try in the second test at Christchurch, combined with his ever-increasing confidence at this level has seen Hansen and his selectors have enough faith in him to give Aaron Cruden a well earned breather.

A desire to keep Ben Smith on the wing and not to clutter his thinking too much early in the season is the main reason Conrad Smith is retained at centre, despite speculation Hansen would make changes.

"He [Ben Smith] has been playing particularly well on the wing and we didn't want to change too much because we have a lot of respect for this French side," Hansen said.

"Apart from two really outstanding tries the other night, they were still in the game right throughout it. Julian [Savea] has come off what I think was one of his better tests, so this gives him a bit of breather before he goes back to Super Rugby."

Despite widespread calls for Hansen to experiment in the midfield, especially with Conrad Smith due to take the end-of-year tour off, the Hurricanes captain will pair up with Ma'a Nonu for their 46th appearance together, second only to Ireland's Brian O'Driscoll and Gordon D'Arcy.

"We might give Rene [Ranger] a run there but not Benny. We've come to the conclusion we really love what he is doing on the wing and so giving him the opportunity to cement that is good for him and good for us."

Hansen is keen to give rookies Steven Luatua, Matt Todd and Charles Piutau some quality time off the bench, while it will also not surprise if halfback Tawera Kerr-Barlow is given more of a role from the reserves in what will be just his fourth test.

Giving further weight to the likelihood of Barrett seeing more than the 10 or so minutes he enjoyed in the opening two tests, is the All Blacks' desire to have all three first five-eighths logging minutes heading into the Rugby Championship.

That was especially important, Hansen felt, because of the "new game structure" the world champions were trying to introduce.

Meanwhile, Piutau has found the transition into the All Blacks relatively seamless.

"The coaches have made that a bit easier; so have the players," he said.

For Piutau, this week has been all about learning the game plan, while he has also appreciated having the likes of Blues team-mate Luatua kitting up for the first time.

Having Luatua cover lock also means Todd is able to come on to the bench.

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Although the Blues No 6 prefers the side of the scrum to packing down in the middle of it, he has no issues with being asked to do the tighter stuff, if needed.

"I'm definitely confident in my ability to cover both. I've been packing down in the second row at training for the last couple of weeks, either as a tight or loose lock."

Hansen has no doubts his new men have the skills for test rugby, but there is a mental side they will have to adjust to rapidly.

"We'll see how they cope with that."

- Taranaki Daily News

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