Hands-off Hansen for the Super Rugby run-in
LIAM NAPIER IN NEW PLYMOUTH
In a perfect world the All Blacks would make a few sly positional suggestions as players switch back to Super Rugby duties this week.
Privately, there would be a desire to see in-from utility Ben Smith team up with Ma'a Nonu in the midfield, not revert to fullback, at the Highlanders.
In a perfect world Rene Ranger might get more time on the wing - rather than centre - at the Blues and the workloads of key Crusaders forwards Owen Franks and Luke Romano would also be managed carefully.
But this is not a perfect world.
With Super Rugby playoffs looming, All Blacks coach Steve Hansen made it clear today, after consulting the five Kiwi franchise coaches, he would stay out of selection decisions. The national team's priorities will take a back seat.
"We had some really good phone conferences on Friday," Hansen said of discussions with Super Rugby mentors. "We call them transition handovers for the players that have been with us. There's a skill and physical programme we want them to work on. We got good buy in from all the Super coaches.
"We won't being going down the road of telling them who to pick or where to play them. That's up to them. They've got to drive their team the way they see it. Obviously one or two [teams] aren't going to go much further than three weeks. Others are really striving to go all the way. Each team has got their issues to deal with."
After sweeping France 3-0, Hansen also suggested it will be difficult for anyone outside the 32 players selected in June to force their way into the 28-man Rugby Championship squad, with the exception of returning captain Richie McCaw.
Fringe prospects such as Hurricanes halfback TJ Perenara, blindside flanker Brad Shields, Blues wing Frank Halai and Crusaders utility Tom Taylor may only get a chance if injuries strike.
McCaw has been working his way back to fitness with All Blacks strength and conditioning coach Nick Gill after his six-month holiday. He is set to return to club rugby soon and may link with the Crusaders in the latter stages of their campaign. The skipper is also likely to have to consider playing some part at No 6 for the All Blacks with Sam Cane's emergence.
"He's got seven weeks before the first test," Hansen said. "He'll start to ramp it up. I'm sure he'll have a couple of club games. Depending on how the Crusaders go he may end up out there if they've got some injuries.
"Gilly has done a magnificent job with him. He's been brought back into running and lifting. Now he's at the phase where he's starting to take some contact and working hard on his ball skills.
"Speaking to him last night he's itching to go.
"We don't have to worry too much about his mental capabilities. He proved that in the World Cup. Time and time again he's proven he doesn't take too long to jump back into the saddle.
"He's coming into a side that's ticking along pretty good, winning is important and winning a series 3-0 grows the confidence."
Hansen and hooker Keven Mealamu had a keen eye on the British & Irish Lion's lucky escape against the Wallabies in Brisbane last night. It was clear that three-match series will take a huge physical toll on Robbie Deans' men before they meet the All Blacks in the opening Rugby Championship test in Sydney. Injuries and the possible suspension of captain James Horwill for stomping are already playing their part.
"There's that opportunity to go both ways, either hit the wall or grow stronger from it," Mealamu said. "We probably expect them to take that second option. It was a very physical match. You won't get any different in those Lions matches. I expect the second one to be just as big."
- Fairfax Media
With Nonu out, who would you like to see paired with Conrad Smith in the All Blacks midfield?