Gregor Paul

Gregor Paul is the Herald on Sunday's rugby writer

Rugby: Evolution not revolution for All Blacks

There hasn't been a revolution, there wasn't a post World Cup exodus and yet the All Blacks have a decidedly different look about them these days.

New faces have arrived, bedded in quickly and become part of the furniture without there being any great fuss.

We haven't really noticed but the side has changed, maybe not significantly but certainly to some extent since the World Cup. The final two weeks of this tour will provide further clarification of the pecking order, more insight into what the selectors consider their best side.

Since 2010, the All Blacks have pursued a largely consistent selection policy which has not only enabled them to win a staggering 34 of their last 38 tests, but has also provided the perfect means to chart the evolution of the playing personnel - a document of sorts to see who has remained a fixture in the starting team and who has faded away.

A few first-choice players disappeared in 2010: Neemia Tialata, Tom Donnelly and Joe Rokocoko most notably.

In 2011 Mils Muliaina and Jimmy Cowan were the only two who started the season in pole position and lost their places and this year the All Blacks have been without Brad Thorn and Jerome Kaino, who have both gone offshore, and Richard Kahui, who is injured.

The upshot is that, as 2012 comes to a close, it becomes apparent that change is constant for the All Blacks even through times of stability and prosperity. They owe their consistent No 1 status to many factors, not the least of which is the evolution of personnel. Change is the inevitable consequence of a world-class production line of talent that keeps developing players who can't be resisted.

There is no comfort zone in All Black rugby and four, maybe five places are still up for grabs in the final two weeks. Aaron Smith, so good all year, has to deliver an accurate, direct and forceful performance against Italy because Piri Weepu was sharp and creative against Scotland.

Brodie Retallick has to match the work-rate of Luke Romano and dominate the lineout, Liam Messam knows Victor Vito is coming to grips with the physical side of test football and that he'll have to confront and dominate a staunch Italian pack and Julian Savea and Hosea Gear are in a head-to-head battle to win the the left wing berth.

"There has been some consistency of selection and I think that has been good and in all probability that is probably what will happen [against Wales]," All Blacks coach Steve Hansen said. "But what we are saying is that we are not going to be frightened to make changes if we think someone is in better form."

That's the All Black way. Nothing ever stands still, no position is taken for granted and slowly teams evolve, and 2012 is no exception.

- Herald on Sunday

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