Johnstone: Old legs, new game plan for ABs

DUNCAN JOHNSTONE
Last updated 10:06 15/08/2013
Richie McCaw
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NEW PLAN: The All Blacks will rely on some old legs to implement their new game plan against the new-look Wallabies.

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OPINION: The All Blacks will rely on some old legs to implement their new game plan against a new-look Wallabies side in Sydney on Saturday night.

Steve Hansen hasn't been shy to cull some of the aging stars who lifted the World Cup two years ago, making some bold selections to his squads.

But when push came to shove for this weekend, the All Blacks coach put his faith firmly in the camp of experience to counter the exuberance that the Wallabies will bring under their new mentor, Australian Ewen McKenzie.

The All Blacks will field a team boasting 874 caps. And that impressive number could have been considerably higher had not one set of aging legs already succumbed, with Dan Carter sidelined with a calf strain.

Hansen has talked up a new high-speed game they want to play this year as they look to evolve their tactical play ahead of the defence of the World Cup.

First comes the defence of the Bledisloe Cup and the Rugby Championship and a starting test in Sydney is a tough assignment given the All Blacks' patchy record there over the years.

That will have been in the selectors' minds when they chose their starting XV that features so many veterans.

This will be a season where the microscope goes on the likes of Andrew Hore, Keven Mealamu, Tony Woodcock, Conrad Smith, Ma'a Nonu, Carter and even skipper Richie McCaw.

Do they have gas left in the tank to get them through to 2015?

For McCaw, Woodcock and Nonu the most pressing question is do they have the gas to get through this test given their relative lack of activity?

The next wave of players wait on the bench, ready to inject fresh legs and enthusiasm into a New Zealand team as the circumstances require.

Others in the squad have already been sent back to their provinces to get some game time in the NPC to keep them in tune for the challenges the All Blacks will face in the coming weeks.

It's hard not to escape the feeling that many of those will be the players that will eventually be responsible for the defence of the World Cup in England in two years time.

As he named his team, Hansen was happy to throw some pressure on McKenzie ahead of one of the more intriguing test in recent years.

"With the changing of the guard in the Australian coaching group, it adds a little bit of the unexpected to the challenge.  Therefore, we need to ready for anything they chuck at us," Hansen said.

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"Whilst the expectations will be as high as they always are for the All Blacks to perform and win, I have a feeling there will also be huge expectations on the Australians because of the changes, and it will be interesting to see how their players and their new coaching team cope with this."

It will be just as interesting to see how the All Blacks cope adapting to their own needs. They were far from flash for most of the series against France.

The old legs need to hit the ground running in Sydney and they need to keep going at a pace to get the All Blacks over the line.

Return matches in Wellington and Dunedin should ensure the Bledisloe remains on this side of the ditch. But this Sydney encounter has some big questions marks hanging over it.

All Blacks: Israel Dagg, Ben Smith, Conrad Smith, Ma'a Nonu, Julian Savea, Aaron Cruden, Aaron Smith, Kieran Read, Richie McCaw (c), Liam Messam, Sam Whitelock, Luke Romano, Owen Franks, Andrew Hore and Tony Woodcock. Reserves: Keven Mealamu, Ben Franks, Charlie Faumuina, Brodie Retallick, Sam Cane, Tawera Kerr-Barlow, Beauden Barrett and Ryan Crotty.

- © Fairfax NZ News

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