Gregor Paul

Gregor Paul is the Herald on Sunday's rugby writer

All Blacks: Messam blindsides main rivals

Liam Messam confirmed he's the first choice blindside.  Photo / Richard Robinson
Liam Messam confirmed he's the first choice blindside. Photo / Richard Robinson

One selection issue solved, a few left to ponder - All Black coach Steve Hansen has plenty to think about ahead of the clash with the Springboks.

Liam Messam confirmed he's the first choice blindside with a performance that had more thrust and impact than Victor Vito's. Coming off the bench after half-time, Messam was full noise, straight into business and did much to get the All Blacks on the front foot and playing their rugby in the right areas.

"I think Liam's performance was pretty commanding," said All Black coach Steve Hansen. "I think Liam's probably got the wood over Victor at the moment and Adam Thomson."

But just as that battle at No6 became clear - some questions elsewhere may now be swirling in the coach's head.

"In the first half we played way too much rugby for the conditions," lamented Hansen. "We tried to move the ball when we should have held on to it."

There was just a hint of frustration with his inside pairing for that lack of control and territorial domination. The conditions made it a difficult night - far from perfect for the on-top-of-the-ground, high pace, ball-in-hand game that both Aaron Smith and Aaron Cruden thrive on.

"Both our halves are inexperienced from a test point of view," said Hansen. "You don't always want them playing in games that are easy for them. Tonight they were challenged, not so much physically but in a game sense and they will have learned from that. That will have been good for them."

The arrival of Piri Weepu steadied things and gave the All Blacks a bit more control. The conditions suited him better than Smith and Weepu could provide more stability and composure against the Springboks.

The question for Hansen is whether he wants that tactically against a physical, set-piece driven side, or, in an indoor stadium and a fast track, he'd rather stick with Smith and play with tempo and width.

He'll also have to decide whether the super-powerful Savea who showed up well and ran strongly and directly is worthy of another run this week. It would be a surprise if he's not picked as he was full of energy and dynamism and came off his wing looking for work.

The only other question mark might be at lock where Luke Romano, while physical, took a royal pounding that might require a spell on the bench.

- Herald on Sunday

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