Hansen faces selection dilemma
Steve Hansen must decide this week whether to reward his incumbents again, or box smart and throw fresh legs at the finish line.
The All Blacks aren't exactly staggering home, but injury concerns, Andrew Hore's overnight citing, and the ferocity of the win over Wales will be factored in when the team to play England is named on Thursday night.
Hansen's men were whisked away to a swimming pool on arrival in London last night and will have a light week on the training paddock as their bodies are monitored.
"We'll just have to see," Hansen said when quizzed on the possibility of selection changes based on fatigue.
"It's been a long year. You only have to look at all the other teams in the southern hemisphere to see they are struggling with that fatigue and yesterday [Sunday] we got a wee sign of it as well [against Wales].
"Our last 20 minutes we started to struggle. The toll of the year has probably kicked in a little bit . . . we just have to be really smart how we train this week and see who is in the right condition to be able to play."
It may make sense to rotate some of the borderline selections in the starting 15.
One change seems certain, with Hore facing a yet-to-be-announced date with the IRB judiciary for his reckless swinging arm at Millennium Stadium.
But blindside Victor Vito, halfback Piri Weepu, wing Hosea Gear and lock Brodie Retallick could all potentially add some zip around the core of tiring senior incumbents.
Hansen wouldn't be drawn on which individuals were feeling the pinch.
But he did confirm there was a danger of cumulative fatigue for those who had been used regularly through the elongated Rugby Championship.
"I think it's just a general fatigue. If you play enough rugby and you travel around as much as we have it takes it out of you," Hansen said before noting the new Rugby Championship had added significant air miles to the traditional schedule.
"Where did we go? Argentina to South Africa, week off, Brisbane, week off, then back up here for three tests in a row. Really it's a high workload."
The fourth and final leg of the end-of-year tour is a physically and mentally tricky prospect and a time when thoughts of Kiwi summers can pervade the psyche.
It happened at Twickenham in 2009 when the All Blacks let their guard down during a lacklustre loss to the Barbarians.
But halfback Piri Weepu said there would be no letup for the 14th and final test of the All Blacks' season, thanks to the opposition.
"Definitely," he said when asked if England were the European side New Zealand players most wanted to beat. "It's like the New Zealand-Aussie rivalry. There's always that English-Kiwi thing so we'll definitely be going full-on this week."
Although he expected there would not be a lot of work on the training pitch, Weepu said there was a clear strategy aimed at ensuring the players were as fresh as possible for the tour finale.
"Leading into the last game of the tour there won't be much motivation needed. Everyone knows it's very important to finish this game on a high.
"Everyone will definitely be up for it." Fairfax NZ
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