With six new caps in the All Blacks squad for the three-test series against Wales, selectors will no doubt be under pressure to throw some of the ‘young standouts from Super Rugby’ into the mix sooner rather than later, but expect the World Cup winning coach to go with the tried and trusted first. All Blacks experience is a key to the sides success, and that factor will continue in 2016.
There is no doubt that the side Steve Hansen will select for the First Test on June 11th will be full of experience. The Welsh will be no push over, this despite the fact that they aren’t exactly bringing their strongest team to New Zealand because of injuries.
The midfield has been a key area of discussion since Sunday’s squad announcement. Symptoms from concussion are still lingering for Charlie Ngatai, and Hansen himself said that the All Black medical staff simply ‘don’t know just when’ the one test midfielder will be ready to fully join the group [George Moala has been brought in as injury cover] The pairing of Ryan Crotty and Malakai Fekitoa (pictured) will likely be the combination that the All Blacks (AB’s) go with at Eden Park.
One media commentator has said that the Welsh would be looking at potential weaknesses in the All Black squad, pointing to the midfield as one key area to target but lets not forget that Crotty and Fekitoa have 28 test caps between them–by no means inexperienced beginners. Their All Blacks experience will count for sure.
But trying to figure out just when the inexperienced international players; a lot of them youngsters, will get an opportunity on the field wearing the famed black jersey is certainly something worth having a discussion about.
If Hansen selects his team in the ways that he has in the past, then the selectors will want to ensure games are well and truly ‘wrapped up’ prior to injecting any debutantes into the mix. In terms of the back line, this means that the likes of Seta Tamanivalu, and even the highly-rated Damian McKenzie, would likely all be bench warmers for the first two tests at least.
It is clear that McKenzie could be groomed as a future first-five option, but his place in the AB’s is at fullback for now, although it is hard to ignore how good Israel Dagg has been since returning from injury. His 49 tests experience alone speaks volumes. With that said, is there an opportunity for McKenzie to also be an option on the wing?
His speed certainly would be an asset, and he has already proven that his size isn’t necessarily a detrimental factor. Ben Smith can play at both fullback and on the wing, so there are options but given the size and power of both Julian Savea and Waisake Naholo, the AB’s vice captain could be best left at fullback–for the first test at least.
Ardie Savea (pictured) is arguably the only new cap that shouldn’t have to improve his current form in order to be awarded a starting spot, and lets not forget that he is going directly up against Sam Cane. Savea is the arguably the form flanker in Super Rugby and his dedication to the 15-man game cannot be questioned; after he turned his back on the opportunity to compete at the Rio Olympics playing Rugby Sevens.
The data supports his form: Savea has beaten over twice the amount of defenders that Cane has this year, has five tries to his name including a ‘match-winning dot down’ against the Highlanders. He has has broken the line 15-times in comparison to Cane, who has spent much more time at the breakdown. Plus, Savea has already been a part of the AB’s group–touring as an ‘apprentice’ in 2014–so has the credentials that will be boosted by All Blacks experience over this series.
All Blacks Experience
There is room for Hansen to change things up as this new era of All Black rugby begins, but to open with, experience needs to be taken into account in order to wrap-up the series in the opening two matches. That achieved, leave the experimentation for the Dunedin clash on June 25th.
“Main photo credit”