Rugby: Hansen unlikely to make changes

By Kris Shannon

All Blacks coach Steve Hansen is unlikely to deviate from the side that dispatched Ireland last night - but he may be forced into at least one change. Photo / Getty Images.
All Blacks coach Steve Hansen is unlikely to deviate from the side that dispatched Ireland last night - but he may be forced into at least one change. Photo / Getty Images.

All Blacks coach Steve Hansen is unlikely to deviate from the side that dispatched Ireland last night - but he may be forced into at least one change.

The All Blacks will looked to take an unassailable 2-0 lead in the three-match series when the sides clash in Christchurch next weekend, and Hansen said he won't make many changes from the team that ran out 42-10 victors at Eden Park.

One switch may be required, though, with Victor Vito struggling after straining a medial ligament in his right knee. The blindside flanker was forced from the field midway through the second half after suffering a head clash with Brian O'Driscoll, but it's not the cut which could keep him sidelined for the second test.

"We're not sure where that's going to go, so we'll just give it a couple of days and make some assessments after that," Hansen said. "I don't think there will be too many [changes]."

If the knee injury does keep Vito from the test, Hansen said the All Blacks would stick with the squad they have rather than call for reinforcements. Vito's logical replacement is Highlanders flanker Adam Thomson, who came on for the Hurricanes man last night before scoring the All Blacks' fourth try.

Aside from the potential switch on the side of the scrum, Hansen saw no reason to alter from the starting XV which made an emphatic statement of intent in the opening test of the season.

"The first two tests I think are about establishing ourselves," he said. "Then, if we have the opportunity and a bit of breathing space, we might make one or two changes. It would be nice to be able to introduce a couple of other young players into test rugby, whether it's off the bench or starting."

One player who is pressing for selection is Blues hooker Keven Mealamu, who has been hampered by a calf injury all season.

"He could probably play this week," Hansen said. "But we'll look to be cautious with him because it's a repeat injury. Give him another week and then we'll be pretty confident that he can come out and play."

The coach, in his first game in charge of the national side, admitted the performance exceeded even his own expectations, as a hat-trick for debutant Julian Savea and tries to Thomson and Conrad Smith proved more than enough to maintain the All Blacks' unbeaten record against Ireland.

"What we were looking for was a really good attitude and to try and establish some forms of patterns that we've been working on. But you also expect your team to take a while to jell when they're coming from five different teams - and they jelled pretty quickly, to be fair, so I'm very happy."

Hansen said he has watched the game twice - "once last night when I was probably a little fogged with a couple of red wines" - and he was impressed with the work of the three debutantes, particularly Chiefs lock Brodie Retallick.

"I felt he played really well. He did a lot of unrewarded work that you don't really get lots of pats on the back for, but the team needs you to do it. Defensively, he was outstanding.

"He's got to be pretty happy with how he's started."

As do the rest of the team. The team for the second test will be named on Thursday but, after such a comprehensive victory with few signs of rust, expect to see a similar side run out for the first time at the new Christchurch Stadium.

- APNZ

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