Wynne Gray

Wynne Gray is a Herald columnist

All Blacks: Hansen's new crop producing the goods

Julian Savea and Tawera Kerr-Barlow in action against Italy. Photo / Getty Images
Julian Savea and Tawera Kerr-Barlow in action against Italy. Photo / Getty Images

Renewing rugby talent is one of the toughest tasks for an All Black coach.

Guiding and building on players' skills is one of the joys for any coaching staff but knowing when to chop some of that trusted and often long-serving quality is a dark time for all involved.

This season the All Blacks introduced ten new players to their systems. Prop Ben Tameifuna did not survive but the others have pushed on.

Three are starting against Wales this weekend and three others are in the reserves. That's a pretty good strike rate for the selectors and a testament to the players' response.

Julian Savea, Aaron Smith and Luke Romano are in the starting XV while Brodie Retallick, Charlie Faumuina and Dane Coles are on the bench.

Only Beauden Barrett who has sore ribs, Tawera Kerr-Barlow and Sam Cane who is captain Richie McCaw's understudy, have missed selection.

Coach Steve Hansen said they had all stepped up and shown they could handle the demands of test rugby. Now they had to push on from these experiences and reach new plateaus.

Regenerating talent was always an issue.

Great players always came to the end of their careers and selectors had to get the timing right to choose and introduce their successors.

That transition was always a tough time for everyone involved.

"But the bottom line is, the number one guiding principle is, the team comes first," Hansen said.

"The individual is second and if it is time to go, it is time to go and you do it in the best way you can and make sure that everyone is respected.

"Form is a big thing when you get to that point."

Senior centre Conrad Smith is still holding a rich stream of form in the outside backs late in the season.

He had not done much work on the opposition in this test though they had been schooled up on Wales' style.

"We have spent a lot of the time looking at ourselves," Smith said.

"We have prepared for a Welsh side which will play really well and we have done a lot of work on ourselves from our previous performances."

Ma'a Nonu debuted for the All Blacks in 2003 and Smith a year later although they did not begin a test together until 2008. Since then they have started as a partnership in 40 tests for 35 wins.

Much of that work was instinctive and that was where that experience kicks in. It helped in pressure games and the trick against Wales was not to get sucked into questioning whether this would be the year the Dragons finally beat the visitors.

"We try and take that out of it and look at ourselves and how we want to play and every week is an opportunity to add to the legacy that we talk about of the All Blacks," Smith said.

If everyone thought that same way then there were no negative connotations about the weight of rugby history.

- NZ Herald

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