Patrick McKendry

Patrick McKendry is a rugby writer for the Herald.

Top All Blacks will play each World Cup game - Hansen

The top All Blacks are likely to start in every match at this World Cup, with the selectors deciding the time for rest and rotation is now officially over.

While injuries and the need to give some players game time will mean the selectors won't start the same XV for every match, the decision to go with the core group is a departure in policy.

The 2007 World Cup quarter-final exit at the hands of France in Cardiff owed a lot to the selectors' obsession with rotating their team for every match to keep them fresh but the lack of game time and combinations meant it backfired spectacularly.

The team named tomorrow morning for the opening match against Tonga at Eden Park on Friday night is likely to be a full-strength one and it probably won't change a great deal as the tournament progresses.

Steve Hansen indicated today the change in thinking from co-selectors Graham Henry and Wayne Smith.

"We've got a group of players that are going to play a lot of the games [but] there is going to be some opportunities for other people," Hansen said. "If we have injuries or need people to be fit for example, we've got to make sure that some, if not all of the squad, get some rugby time. How we do that is going to be interesting.

"I don't know that you'll see the same XV [for every match]. We just can't do that, we don't think. You might see the same 10 or 12 on a regular basis."

That means key players such as captain Richie McCaw and Dan Carter will start the majority of matches - including pool games - as will Brad Thorn and Owen Franks. All four Crusaders were rested during the Tri Nations following an arduous Super Rugby season which, as Hansen said today, probably impacted on the All Blacks' performances and contributed to their defeat against the Wallabies in Brisbane.

There are still some selection puzzles for the selectors but they are mainly confined to the backline. Mils Muliaina, on 98 tests, clearly has experience but is in danger of being overtaken by Israel Dagg, who has made a spectacular return from a serious thigh injury.

"Dagg played fantastically well in South Africa," Hansen said. "Mils has played 98 tests and it's hard to find too many that weren't top performances. That's a pleasing contest we have there and I'm sure Mils will stand up to that contest and I'm sure so will Israel."

Another is on the wing where Richard Kahui could have a claim following less than convincing performances from Zac Guildford and Cory Jane recently.

In the forwards, Tony Woodcock's inclusion for the Tonga match could be in doubt due to a hamstring twinge and Thorn's locking partner could be either Sam Whitelock or Ali Williams.

Williams made a good impact when coming off the bench against Australia in Brisbane, with Whitelock having the inside running as starting lock. But Whitelock could also play a role as a reserve due to his ability to cover blindside flanker, a potential problem area given the injuries to Kieran Read and Adam Thomson.

Now that the tournament is finally about to start, Hansen admitted to some excitement.

"Not only is it a World Cup, it's a World Cup in New Zealand," he said. "We can't wait for it to start. Friday night, the opening ceremony, is meant to be something special. We won't see it, obviously, but we'll get it videoed so we can have a look at it later. Playing Tonga in Auckland where there is a massive Tongan population is going to be quite special."

- APNZ

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