Patrick McKendry

Patrick McKendry is a rugby writer for the Herald.

All Blacks: Hansen not taking Irish lightly

Australia's shock loss to Scotland this week was an important lesson for the All Blacks and coach Steve Hansen says his side can't afford to think beyond Saturday's first test against Ireland.

Hansen and his selectors have picked three uncapped players for the match at Eden Park - lock Brodie Retallick, halfback Aaron Smith and wing Julian Savea - and their enthusiasm as much as the All Blacks' unbeaten record against Ireland should provide enough motivation.

But the Scots' 9-6 victory over the Wallabies in a wet and windy Newcastle on Tuesday was a timely reminder.

"Ireland won't be coming here with any other attitude than to win," Hansen said. "We saw in their last performance at Eden Park against Australia [during the World Cup] that they are capable of putting good performances together. Clearly Australia may have underestimated Scotland. They have a busy week, maybe they were thinking about the second test they had that week [against Wales on Saturday] I'm not sure, but we can't fall into that trap.

We've got to hit the ground running and running hard."

Hansen said he went for Highlanders halfback Smith for his quick passing game, with the experienced Piri Weepu available off the bench if needed.

"We'd like him to get the opportunity to come through the starting process and bring his game to the party and use Piri to come off the bench and if we need to change the game we can do that or if we need his experience at the end of the game we can use that."

The 23-year-old Smith said he wouldn't hesitate to order the more experienced forwards around if necessary.

"That will be something I have to come to terms with but hopefully there's mutual respect there and they knowing I'm saying what needs to be said for the good for the team," he said.

Hansen had no doubts either.

"He's a cheeky wee man and the forwards love him. The forwards just expect halfbacks to talk. Coaches do too and halfbacks are obliging because they like talking."

Chiefs lock Retallick deserved his chance in front of Ali Williams, Hansen said. And Hurricanes wing Savea was another player in excellent form.

When asked about Retallick's ability to cope with the physical demands of test rugby, Hansen said: "He's coped with it at the level below. We're making the assumption that he can. I've got every confidence and so have the other coaches."

Victor Vito has got the nod at blindside flanker, replacing the injured Jerome Kaino who set new standards in physicality in this position. Hansen said picking Vito ahead of Adam Thomson that he was backing the Hurricane to mature into a Kaino-like figure.

"Adam Thomson has had a big season with the Highlanders and we're really looking to Victor to bring his physical game, to be honest. Thommo can concentrate this week on catching his breath and coming off the bench."

Asked whether Vito could transform into an angry player given his pleasant personality, Hansen replied: "Jerome Kaino's a nice bloke too. Brad Thorn's not a bad bloke either. It's just a maturing thing with Victor. He's been by nature a ball runner but as his game has matured he's got better and better in that area."

Sonny Bill Williams has predictably been selected at second-five ahead of Ma'a Nonu, with Hansen impressed by the strides the Chiefs midfielder and league convert has made.

"Brad Thorn took about four years to go from a converted player to understanding the game and we're seeing exactly the same thing happening with Sonny. Three or four years where he has come to our game with a number of skills but he didn't know when to unlock them or when to use them. This season we're seeing a guy who is actually understanding the game and the role that he has in it. We know he's a freak and he can do whatever he wants with the ball. Having that understanding is making him go up three or four levels."

All Blacks team to play Ireland at Eden Park on Saturday: (test caps in brackets)
1. Tony Woodcock (83)
2. Andrew Hore (62)
3. Owen Franks (31)
4. Brodie Retallick *
5. Samuel Whitelock (25)
6. Victor Vito (13)
7. Richie McCaw (c) (103)
8. Kieran Read (36)
9. Aaron Smith *
10. Daniel Carter (85)
11. Julian Savea *
12. Sonny Bill Williams (14)
13. Conrad Smith (55)
14. Zac Guildford (8)
15. Israel Dagg (12)

* Debut

Reserves:
16. Hikawera Elliot (2)
17. Ben Franks (15)
18. Ali Williams (73)
19. Adam Thomson (24)
20. Piri Weepu (56)
21. Aaron Cruden (9)
22. Ben Smith (2)

- APNZ

Stats provided by

© Copyright 2014, APN New Zealand Limited

Assembled by: (static) on production apcf01 at 18 Dec 2014 12:18:20 Processing Time: 617ms