Daniel Richardson

Daniel Richardson is a Wellington-based sports journalist for NZME. News Service.

Rugby: Hansen could swing the selection axe this year

All Blacks' coach Steve Hansen has admitted some of his veteran leaders won't be around at the next World Cup in England in 2015 and new faces could be welcomed in to the side this year.

Hansen has been given a contract extension to lead the All Blacks through to the next global tournament and it was formally announced at NZRU HQ in Wellington this morning.

He was originally appointed on a two-year term following the 2011 World Cup, where he served as an assistant to Graham Henry.

Hansen enjoyed a strong campaign with the national side last year with the basis of his squad made up of the world-champion unit from 2011, although he did mix in new faces such as Aaron Smith and Julian Savea.

Just how many of those ageing players will be around in two years remains to be seen, but the likes of Tony Woodcock, Keven Mealamu, Andrew Hore, Ali Williams, Richie McCaw, Dan Carter and Conrad Smith aren't getting any younger.

"Clearly going forward there's some massive challenges and I guess the biggest one is going to be recapturing the William Webb Ellis Trophy in 2015," Hansen said today.

"But in the meantime we are still expected to win test matches so we've got to make sure that we don't just consolidate from where we were. Last year was a good year but we've got to keep moving forward, growing ourselves, particularly our game so we can stay in front. It's been well publicised that we've got an ageing leadership group and it's been that leadership group who have been able to make the big decisions, the right decisions in the big moments in critical test matches."

New Zealand play France in three test matches in June and given McCaw will still be on his sabbatical, a new openside flanker will be given the opportunity to show their wares.

Hansen said he wanted to blood other players in the coming year or two as they looked to the next World Cup and acknowledged some tough decisions would have to be made in regards to his trusty veterans.

"Obviously there's a lot of people in the group who want to be in that next World Cup squad and some of them aren't going to make it. But it won't prevent them from trying. But we need to be able to make sure that we've got our balance right and our selection over the next two to three years that if they don't make it we've got the right people in place to be able to take their place and make those decisions and produce the rugby performance that we are after."

It would take a brave man to drop some of those experienced All Blacks but Hansen made it clear today that winning the next World Cup is the priority and no favours would be given based on past history.

Meanwhile, in other appointments, All Blacks Manager Darren Shand has also extended his contract with the NZRU through to the 2015 World Cup, while Dr Tony Page has been appointed to the role of All Blacks doctor, replacing Dr Deb Robinson who stepped down earlier this year after six years in the job.

- APNZ

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