Gregor Paul

Gregor Paul is the Herald on Sunday's rugby writer

Rugby: Coach showing deft touch

Steve Hansen's new men in black reveal quality of his research giving caps only to those who look like keepers

Steve Hansen will be short-odds favourite to scoop the IRB coach of the year award next week but, as deserved as that will be, the title is a misnomer of sorts. Hansen's real skill this year hasn't so much been his coaching - although that has been impressive - as his selecting, having found nine new All Blacks and not striking a dud.

That's rare and speaks of a man who has done his research. Hansen has a clear vision of the type of rugby he wants his team to play and, from that, a clear idea about the types of athletes he'll need to play it.

The detail matches the big picture and testament to that is the probability of all the new caps in 2012 still being in the All Black frame by 2015.

That's significantly different to the Graham Henry era when there was almost a law of probabilities approach to selecting: that is, pick enough players and it's inevitable gold will be struck.

With the magic of hindsight, it's easier to see how erratic selection was back then: Saimone Taumoepeau, Steven Bates, Xavier Rush, John Schwalger, Clarke Dermody, Scott Hamilton, Casey Laulala, Sosene Anesi, Greg Rawlinson, Rudi Wulf and Anthony Tuitavake were all brief All Blacks. They were rewarded for solid provincial and Super Rugby form but never convinced as test players either before or after they were picked.

Hansen's regime is in stark contrast - he's only interested in keepers, men who he believes can become good All Blacks and he hasn't handed a test cap to anyone he's not sure about.

Brodie Retallick, Luke Romano, Sam Cane, Aaron Smith, Beauden Barrett, Julian Savea and Charlie Faumuina - have impressed in their rookie test seasons. All of them look like long-term All Black material and genuine contenders to be part of the next World Cup squad.

New caps on this tour Dane Coles and Tawera Kerr-Barlow haven't had enough game-time yet for the judgment to be definitive, but they have made promising starts and no one disputed they deserved their respective call-ups.

The last two tests will provide more telling evidence whether Hansen has indeed nailed it with his new men. A desperate Wales side at the Millennium and a powerful England team eager to impress at Twickenham - these are intimidating venues and will take the new men to their physical and psychological limits, precisely what Hansen wants.

The big questions for him are how they deal with all the adulation that they get in the papers when they play really well; whether they can get their preparation right after all that. Our feedback is some can, some can't. So how will they deal with the pressure when they don't play so good?

"We can accelerate that learning for them in our environment and get them where they need to be a lot quicker," Hansen says.

He believes some of his new charges have already made significant progress this year - and are set to advance again in 2013.

"Aaron Smith has played outstanding rugby. The pressure he's under at the moment is not because of his form, it's more because Piri Weepu has risen to the challenge.

"Luke (Romano) and Brodie (Retallick) have stepped up and shown us they can be international locks. Obviously they're not the finished article but you wouldn't expect that in their first year. Julian Savea is scoring tries and assisting in scoring tries so the guys have done well.

"Sam Cane, although he's not had a lot of game time, when he has had it he's shown us he's capable so we are very pleased with him."

It's nine out of nine so far for Hansen - so he's unbeaten as a coach and effectively unbeaten as a selector as well.


Nine gems

• Brodie Retallick
• Luke Romano
• Sam Cane
• Aaron Smith
• Beauden Barrett
• Julian Savea
• Charlie Faumuina
• Dane Coles
• Tawera Kerr-Barlow

- NZ Herald

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