OPINION: This week is going to tell us a lot about Steve Hansen's coaching philosophies, and I'm picking the All Blacks coach will be a man after my own heart when it comes to selecting his lineup to face Argentina.
That's to say, hopefully he'll resist the temptation to “rotate” and pick something pretty close to his top team to run out in Wellington on Saturday night.
Let's face it, if ever a coach was going to be tempted to have a look at some backup players, this would be the chance. With all due respect to Argentina, who on their day can challenge the best in the world, their record in New Zealand isn't flash. Plus, the travel factor is against them, and the All Blacks are well-rested and in pretty good nick.
The penultimate home test for 2012 is probably the only chance Hansen has to make some selection changes with a degree of impunity. But I would be surprised if he gets too busy. Against Ireland the only changes made were injury-enforced, apart from one or two exceptions.
So do we see Ben Smith, Piri Weepu or Aaron Cruden get a go, maybe Victor Vito up front? We've got to show a little bit of arrogance here and say the way the All Blacks are playing, they should be able to take care of Argentina, and still make some changes.
But I don't see big changes on the horizon.
Hansen doesn't look like he's interested in rotation. He looks completely interested in form and if you're in form you get selected every week. And I think everybody knows how I feel about that. It's good for New Zealand rugby if we target every test, put our best team on the park and the only changes we make are injury-enforced or form-related, Messam a classic example of that scenario successfully implemented.
I'm a big fan of Cruden, and maybe it would be good to continue Savea's development. It's nice to see players given opportunities. But I still like what Hansen is doing.
I wonder what readers think? Should we continue to develop? Carter is 30, Richie McCaw is 31. Our marquee players are starting to get on. Do we rely on Ma'a Nonu still being in New Zealand next year, with speculation he is moving on? Is it time to bring on another 12?
I'm more an advocate that if they want to develop players in certain positions, then use the bench. I've got no problem with injecting Cruden or Savea with 25-30 to go. They can still get quality test time there.
Besides, I sense this group of All Blacks are still evolving. They haven't been through enough yet. They need to experience different circumstances to become true champions, as do the coaches who need to see how these players react under pressure. The dynamics need to be challenged in different situations.
If you look at great All Black teams of the past, they haven't had personnel changes because the team has been so good. That's because they've learned how to win.
The team I was in around 1996-97 won test matches we shouldn't have won, but we had the same team every week. Plenty of times we were up against it, but we knew each other so well, we'd played together so much, we'd developed an understanding of what we needed to do.
Argentina are going to be up against it this week. As well as they performed last week, they now have to travel to New Zealand, where they've never won, and have suffered some big defeats.
I hope they don't try just to restrict the All Blacks. I know they need to play to their strengths, which are mostly up front. But they have some talent in that backline, and they need to play to win.
There's a temptation against someone superior to play conservatively to try to stay in the game and frustrate. That works sometimes but I don't think it's in Argentina's makeup, or interests, to do that. They need to play like they did in the World Cup, when New Zealand had to work very hard to wear them down.
Their biggest chance is if they express themselves. For them to develop and be the exciting team everyone wants in this competition they need to play positively. Thinking "restriction" is not a good state of mind for them.
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