All Black castoffs goaded to win title

TONY SMITH
Last updated 05:00 29/07/2014
Steve Hansen
Getty Images
TOUGH CHOICES: All Blacks coach Steve Hansen naming his squad for the Rugby Championship.

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If some of the Crusaders' players needed any extra motivation to win Saturday's Super Rugby grand final, then All Blacks coach Steve Hansen has provided it.

The Crusaders have eight players in the 31-man Rugby Championship test squad but three omissions were the talking point yesterday.

Hansen dropped Crusaders openside flanker Matt Todd, midfield back Ryan Crotty and first five-eighth Colin Slade.

Todd and Slade have been keeping All Blacks aces Richie McCaw and Dan Carter out of their preferred positions in the Super Rugby arena.

Hansen rang the trio to explain.

"It's not [a call] they want to sit on the end of and have a big, happy chappy phone message but they got very clear messages on what they have to do and where they sit. Hopefully, those guys go on and have a great week for the Crusaders and get something out of it at the end of the week by winning that final."

He acknowledged Todd had been "brilliant" in "an outstanding" back row in the Crusaders' semifinal demolition of the Sharks. But 14-test Chiefs flanker Sam Cane returns to the All Blacks squad after missing the three-test series against England in June. Hansen said the All Blacks coaches sweated over the decision to select Cane over Todd as McCaw's backup.

"But in the past when people are injured and have played as well as Sammy has played [for the All Blacks], we've always supported them. We've got a philosophy that you can't lose any ground when you're injured, you lose the ground when you're on the playing field.

"He's worked hard to get back.

"He's had a game last week and we expect him to be playing well when he gets his opportunities."

Hansen said Todd was playing well and would get another opportunity but the selectors considered McCaw, "probably one of the greatest All Blacks ever", and Cane, "someone we believe could go on to be a great All Black", were better.

Slade was always expected to make way for 100-cap Carter on his test return after a six-month sabbatical. But Crotty is a victim of the All Blacks' policy to select only three midfielders, with Carter covering second five-eighth. Hansen said Crotty was having a great season for the Crusaders "but so is Malakai Fekitoa for the Highlanders".

Hansen has no problem with the Crusaders playing Carter and McCaw at second five-eighth and blindside flanker respectively, although he admitted he would have preferred Carter to be in the No 10 jersey. "But at the same time, I've got no problem with him playing 12 for the Crusaders because that's the best place for him to be playing in that team.

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"Colin's playing really well and they need a 12, so no issue."

As for McCaw - the All Blacks' first-choice opensider since 2001 - playing at No 6: "I'm just happy he's playing. And after the way he played [against the Sharks], I'm sure everybody in Christchurch is too." Hansen said McCaw, who had not played for five weeks, had "the presence of mind", with less than five minutes to go when he had "every right to try and slow the game down", to take a quick throw-in and set up a try.

Hansen said it took Carter "a game or two" to settle back in, which was expected after his six-month sabbatical. Fairfax NZ

- The Press

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