Gatland target of Hansen's latest barb

TOBY ROBSON IN CARDIFF
Last updated 05:00 23/11/2012
Steve Hansen
Getty Images
STEVE HANSEN: "We've heard a lot about Warren Gatland coming back but really he's been a part of the preparation the whole way through so I don't see that as a big game changer."

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Steve Hansen has proved as consistent with his selections as his jibes in Cardiff this week.

In the end the All Blacks coach had a fairly simple task in settling on his top side yesterday, with halfback Aaron Smith the only real conundrum around the selection table.

But while there was predictability to the team naming, Hansen continued to add spice to the buildup with another barb poked towards the Welsh camp - this time at Warren Gatland.

Local media have portrayed the Welsh coach as a white knight and absolved him of the team's losses to Argentina and Samoa, but while Hansen is expecting a fiery resurgence at Millennium Stadium on Sunday morning (NZ time), he has a different view on Gatland.

"We've heard a lot about Warren Gatland coming back but really he's been a part of the preparation the whole way through so I don't see that as a big game changer," he said.

"Because he's played a part in the preparations of the other matches."

It continued a theme that began before the All Blacks left Rome when Hansen dredged up controversial comments by Wales defence coach Shaun Edwards at last year's World Cup.

Edwards' reaction only added to the tension in the opposition camp and Hansen reiterated yesterday his sense that Wales had been waiting 13 long months for their shot at revenge.

"We know Wales have been thinking about this game since the semifinal of the World Cup last year," he said. "They'll be really up for it and if we allow them into the game then the crowd will play a part.

"I think this is a game they've had their eye on and perhaps they've dropped the ball because of that in the other games. Perhaps they didn't care enough about the other games."

The All Blacks clearly do care, with Hansen's selections reflecting the respect he is giving his former team.

There was thought to reinstating Piri Weepu after an "outstanding" performance against Scotland, but in the end it would have been a step too far to ditch Smith on one poor outing in Brisbane, and a difficult day in Rome.

Elsewhere the debatable calls fell into place. Wing Julian Savea has been simply too influential in the past two week to leave out.

Keven Mealamu's dodgy calf gifted Andrew Hore the starting role at hooker with Dane Coles' strong progression meaning there was no reason to push the issue.

Luke Romano's superior ball-carrying ability makes him the logical locking partner to Sam Whitelock, although Brodie Retallick continues to rise quickly.

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And Liam Messam continues at blindside, with his weight of performance this season holding off Victor Vito's convincing effort at Murrayfield.

There are nine changes to the team that started against Italy, including the return of fit-again fullback Israel Dagg and skipper Richie McCaw.

It is difficult to argue with the starting XV selections, while the bench sorted itself out through a process of elimination, with Beauden Barrett, Tamati Ellison and Mealamu injured and Adam Thomson ruled out while his suspension is reviewed by the International Rugby Board.

New Zealand: Israel Dagg, Cory Jane, Conrad Smith, Ma'a Nonu, Julian Savea, Dan Carter, Aaron Smith, Kieran Read, Richie McCaw (c), Liam Messam, Sam Whitelock, Luke Romano, Owen Franks, Andrew Hore, Tony Woodcock. Reserves: Dane Coles, Wyatt Crockett, Charlie Faumuina, Brodie Retallick, Victor Vito, Piri Weepu, Aaron Cruden, Ben Smith. 

- Fairfax Media

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