READER REPORT:

All Blacks wounded veterans - no worries

RICHARD DOHERTY
Last updated 14:54 11/08/2014
Richie McCaw
Reuters
ALL BLACKS CAPTAIN: Richie McCaw.
Dan Carter
Getty Images
RECOVERING: All Blacks No 10 Dan Carter will miss the All Blacks next two home tests as he continues to recover from a minor leg fracture.

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I have noticed a number of posts suggesting Conrad Smith, Richie McCaw, Dan Carter, Tony Woodcock, Kevin Mealamu, and Cory Jane are all too old for the All Blacks, and that Hansen appears to have lost the plot.

I believe a couple of those guys, Kevvy and Dan, may not make it due to recurrent calf injuries. These sorts of injuries never truly go away and the repeat can be a sign that the end is nigh. But I could be wrong and all they have to do is make it to October 31, 2015.

Win or lose, all these guys are likely to hang up their boots or take up European or Japanese contracts once the World Cup is over.

Since 2011, Hansen has built depth across the squad and introduced a significant amount of new talent with considerable success.

The squad has a nice balance of experience and youth and there are at least one or two players behind each incumbent.

Malakai Fekitoa is going to be a star. But Conrad Smith remains, along with Adam Ashley-Cooper, one of the best outside centres the game has seen.

His defence is outstanding and he still possesses the vision to quell any midfield problem, often rushing out of defence to do so.

He still carries well and is a better distributor that Cooper and his partnership with Ma’a rivals the great Bunce/Little midfield combination.

Richie McCaw just continues to defy belief. Criticised for marginal performances against the English it emerged he had been playing with a broken rib, a painful injury.

The All Black captain, not an insignificant point, has morphed his openside game to that of a blindside really, but there are no true fetchers any more because the rest of the team is tasked with this core role.

Hooper is about as close as you get to the Heinrich Brussow role these days and he is not a fetcher either. McCaw's work-rate remains phenomenal. He is usually first or second for metres carried, tackles made and crucially, turnovers.

When Dan Carter is fit, and that's a big if these days, he remains probably the best fly-half in the game, certainly in this country.

Despite a litany of injuries (shoulder and calf primarily, and now a small fracture) as well as a sabbatical he has still started half of the games since the World Cup and has had significant moments. The drop-kick against Ireland in the second test two years ago comes to mind.

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Look at the difference in the Crusaders' direct attack and kicking game since he has returned. He remains Hansen's first pick and when the All Blacks have Cruden and Barrett at their disposal, that's some endorsement.

Woodcock, also written off by many was outstanding against England along with Owen Franks. England were without Corbisiero and Cole but Joe Marler and David Wilson were expected to be able to do the job with an engine room containing men-mountains Parling and Launchbury.

Woody was all over Wilson at set-piece and Marler’s comments regarding his confidence of bettering the All Black pack came back to bite him too. But set-piece wasn’t the only area of excellence. Both props carried well and defended well.

The operation on his shoulder will see him sorely missed but provide an opportunity to increase depth in this area. Hames is a little down the pecking order but he is special and I would keep an eye out for him.

Coles is slowly picking up his pace. He already excels around the paddock but his set-piece technique has improved remarkably too. He is alongside and will over-take Mealamu which probably suits the All Blacks.

Mealamu can prolong his career as impact depending on the opposition and All Black game-plan. The introduction of Nathan Harris and attendance at All Blacks camps of players like Motu Matu'u will see some form of back-up in place by London.

Cory Jane has been inconsistent since returning from a lengthy lay-off due to injury. The last time we saw him in black he was at the peak of his powers, arguably the best winger in the world, certainly the best under the highball and chasing and regathering.

In the third test against the English he was outstanding. He may end up being a victim of the depth in the outside backs though. Ben Smith has to be accommodated, such is his talent, and Hansen is likely to reinstate Dagg at full-back.

Every one of these players has their replacement being groomed now with another potential either being exposed to the environment and systems or at least on the selectors' radar. The captaincy will clearly go to Read who will grow into a fine captain. The core leadership group will change slightly.

This succession has been planned and is very much a subset of the overall development plans Hansen has in place.

Those of the older guard that make London, and most of them should will provide not only their individual performance value but valuable experience at the pointy end of the tournament where it will be needed, as we have seen in the past from previous failures.

I for one, will be grateful for their presence.


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