Hansen rolls the dice with injured Richie McCaw
It's Steve Hansen's one acknowledgement of the long-term view on this tricky away double-header in the Rugby Championship.
The All Blacks coach admits the decision to take skipper Richie McCaw as part of his 28-strong squad to play Argentina in La Plata next weekend and then the Springboks at Ellis Park the one after is a risk.
McCaw won't be fit to play against the Pumas as he recovers from a medial ligament tear, but the hope is he'll be right to face up against South Africa in what shapes as the championship decider.
But to make room for McCaw, Hansen had to leave behind Matt Todd, his specialist cover at No 7, which means Liam Messam will be the openside backup in Argentina, covering a position even the player himself admits he no longer feels comfortable filling.
All going well, Messam won't be needed in La Plata and Sam Cane will come through the 80 minutes and then make way for a fit again McCaw in Johannesburg. That's the plan - even if it's one Hansen knows has the potential to come undone.
If Cane gets injured early against the Pumas the All Blacks could be exposed at No 7. And if McCaw doesn't make the recovery anticipated the New Zealanders could be in a tricky situation against South Africa.
"There's a risk, but we believe it's one worth taking," Hansen said yesterday. "We'd much rather have Richie with us, getting treatment in our environment by our people, than have him in Christchurch working away on his own."
Hansen said the 119-test flanker was on target to make a remarkable return from an injury that was predicted to rule him out for four to five weeks. He could be back in action in a little over three weeks.
"He's running on it OK," Hansen said. "Like any injury you don't know where it's going to end up . . . but he's extremely fit, and he'd come through the games before Hamilton without any significant preparation remarkably well."
The other factor that encourages Hansen to roll the dice a little is that neither the Pumas nor Springboks play with a traditional fetcher at No 7. He feels, if necessary, the All Blacks can get by with Messam there in La Plata.
And having McCaw returning for what's shaping as a monumental clash in Johannesburg would be a huge boost for the All Blacks in week two of their tour.
"If he's fit it's just good to have him in the team regardless of who you're playing. He's one of our great players, and we want him to play whenever he can."
Hansen also indicated that Aaron Cruden was likely to return at No 10 to face Argentina despite the impressive extended run off the bench by Beauden Barrett against the Springboks in Auckland.
All indications are that Hansen will send out pretty close to his strongest team available to face Argentina, with the coach talking about the need to take care of business there before turning his attention to Johannesburg.
"Everyone in this team has earned their right to be there," Hansen said. "DC [Dan Carter] has come back many times ahead of Aaron and now it's Aaron's turn to be able to earn that right."
Expect Hansen to resist the temptation to experiment in La Plata in favour of securing the result he needs. Then it will be all on at Ellis Park.
- © Fairfax NZ News
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