All Blacks fresh troops look to ‘sharpen the tool box’

All Blacks fresh troops look to 'sharpen the tool box'

With two matches ‘up the sleeve’ of All Blacks selectors, they have chose to reach for the tool box. In a focus on both the here and now, plus a want to give opportunities to different players. And as such, Steve Hansen has made several changes to his side to face France, in the final test in Dunedin Saturday.

Last week was about continuity. What resulted was a stunted effort. Complicated by cards that now ‘do not apply’ the selectors have opted for change.

All Blacks add fresh troops for Third Test

The key feature is the selection of new All Blacks Shannon Frizell in the number six jersey, and Jackson Hemopo on the bench. Both players from the Highlanders franchise – so it is a nod to the local franchise, and to the exciting future that each shows.

The tight five is unchanged, with Samuel Whitelock again named as captain. Steve Hansen commented in an media release “it’s an exciting mix of players with big-match experience, newer All Blacks who are continuing to grow their game, and four players who have been named in the Test 23 for the first time.

“On behalf of the All Blacks, I want to congratulate Shannon, Jackson, Jack and Richie, on their selection in the Test side.”

Due to the HIA to Beauden Barrett and concussion stand-down policy of the All Blacks, Damian McKenzie gets his first Test start in the number 10 jersey outside halfback Aaron Smith. Midfielder Jack Goodhue, who played against the France XV on last year’s Northern Tour, will make his Test debut at centre.

Sonny Bill Williams returns in place of Anton Lienert-Brown, after the Blues midfielder made a remarkable return from injury.  The back-three have been reshuffled, with Waisake Naholo coming in on the right wing, Ben Smith at his more comfortable fullback position, and Rieko Ioane on the left wing.

TJ Perenara is reserve halfback, Richie Mo’unga, who also played the non-Test against the France XV last year, looks set to make his Test debut off the bench. Many has assumed that Mo’unga could start, so the onus is on McKenzie to solidify his role as playmaker – or he may need to return to the impact role off the bench, which he seems to maximize more often.

Focus on working collectively as a Team

Head coach Steve Hansen said “One of the aims of the Steinlager Series was to continue to build depth across our squad and give players opportunities. Now that we have secured the Dave Gallaher trophy, we think this is the right time to do that”. Adding fresh troops, he will look to ‘sharpen the tool box’ for the here and now and, looking towards the future.

“Our focus this week has been concentrating, firstly, on getting our individual processes done well, and then working on these collectively as a team.  Another key focus has been our mental preparation, which needs to be bone deep and genuine. The French have proven to be a worthy opponent and very difficult to play, and we see this Test as another opportunity to improve our game.

One area that is a goal, is converting opportunities. That is in attack, and in the ability to use set-piece against the rush defence of France. Hansen stated, “we are looking forward to playing under the roof at Forsyth Barr Stadium in guaranteed good conditions”. Fans will be hoping for running rugby; from both teams.

New players brought out of All Blacks ‘tool box’

Frizell has been a revelation, in his first full season of Super Rugby. And the reward of being included in the All Blacks environment, is now maximized. By putting Frizell in the ‘tool box’ along with experienced players, their thinking is that he can show his full potential now (rather than later).

The same can be said of Hemopo. A tall, rugged player, he has graduated from promising, to being quite outstanding. Hansen complimented both his ball handling skills and temperament, which can be moulded by the All Blacks. If not the finished article, then like Liam Squire before him, a player who could ‘shine brightly’ in the way that Jerome Kaino and Ali Williams did.

They have been elevated, and can demonstrate if each has the right stuff needed to face the French test team – and if they were not part of the All Blacks, both will have likely played the French Barbarians. The Baabaas play the Highlanders at Rugby Park, Invercargill on Friday night.

France have named a changed side also, with Morgan Parra taking over the captains role. Jacques Brunel will want his side to improve themselves, and to curtail any tackling technique issues, which have been so fiercely highlighted by the referees. Rightly or wrongly, you can only challenge the All Blacks with 15 men on the field.

If they manage to do that, then France will find that the home team have ‘sharpened their tools’ and it looks to be another classic encounter, in this fierce rivalry over more than 100 years of history.

New Zealand v France – Saturday June 23, 7:35pm (NZT) Dunedin

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