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

All Blacks: Hansen not feeling the heat

Steve Hansen isn't bothered by Ewen McKenzie's mind games. Photo / Getty Images.
Steve Hansen isn't bothered by Ewen McKenzie's mind games. Photo / Getty Images.

Steve Hansen isn't bothered by Ewen McKenzie's mind games.

In the lead up to this weekend's opening Rugby Championship encounter between the All Blacks and Australia in Sydney, new Wallabies' coach McKenzie has tried to keep everybody guessing by not giving a clear indication on who his five-eighth will be.

Many thought when he replaced Robbie Deans as head coach of Australia he would reprise his Queensland Reds' connection with Kiwi-born pivot Quade Cooper but it appears Brumbies first-five Matt Toomua is shaping as the likely candidate. Waratahs 23-year-old Bernard Foley is also in the Australian squad.

If McKenzie's foxing was intended to put Hansen off his game, it hasn't worked.

This morning Hansen named his side for Saturday's encounter at ANZ Stadium and was asked if McKenzie's secrecy had been mentally challenging.

"I actually think the better question would be, is he mentally challenged that he doesn't know which five-eighth he wants to pick?'' Hansen said.

"He's in a difficult situation isn't he? Because I'm imagining when Robbie Deans wasn't picking Quade Cooper he was probably saying `I'll pick you Quade, I'll pick you' and our information is telling us he's going to pick the other bloke [Toomua]. Now, there's two reasons why he wouldn't want to tell them. One: He's not sure himself. Or, two: He doesn't think they can cope with the pressure of being out there in public too early. So he's not affecting us. It doesn't bother me a hoot who they play.''

Hansen predicted McKenzie would have a strong Brumbies flavour in the Australian backline with midfielders Christian Leali'ifano and Tevita Kuridrani potential starters outside Toomua as they would try to play a rush defence to put the All Blacks under pressure.

Hansen then took the opportunity to remind McKenzie of the pressure he would be under this weekend.

"I think back to myself when I had my first test match as head coach. Whether you want to admit it publicly or not, there is pressure because there's a question mark and Australia haven't had a great run against us for a wee while now and that's all been attributed to Robbie Deans, which is, I think, a bit unfair. But everyone seems to think that Ewen's going to make the difference so there's got to be pressure on him because what happens if it doesn't work? So there's a lot of pressure there and that's why they'll turn up and give it everything they've got so we need to match that intensity or better it.''

As for the All Blacks, Hansen named a largely predictable 23-man squad with the only new face being Ryan Crotty, who is in line to make his international debut from the bench should his number be called.

An injury to Francis Saili facilitated the need for Crotty to be summoned from Canterbury to join the squad last weekend then Dan Carter's withdrawal meant the side were light on cover at second-five.

"He's done enough over the last couple of months to impress us,'' Hansen said of Crotty.

Crotty, 24, said his mum and dad would travel to Sydney for the game and there would be no concerns around learning the haka.

"It's quite similar to the one that we do for age-group teams,'' he said. "I've been practicing since I was four-years-old anyway.''

Tony Woodcock has been given the start at loosehead prop, which was a no-brainer given the injury to Wyatt Crocket and Hansen said he had faith in the 98-test veteran's ability to bounce back in the Rugby Championship after an off-year with the Highlanders.

"He'll be fine, he's trained really well. He's excited, as everybody is. It's probably the most excited I've seen our group for a long time,'' Hansen said.

Luke Romano was given the nod to partner Sam Whitelock in the second row ahead of Brodie Retallick, which was in part due to the fact Retallick is yet to play a game under the new scrum laws, while Romano played last week's practice games against Wellington and Canterbury.

As expected, Aaron Cruden was given the No 10 jersey in Carter's absence, with Hurricane Beauden Barrett to provide cover on the bench.

Richie McCaw will captain the side in his first test back from his sabbatical.

All Blacks: Israel Dagg, Ben Smith, Conrad Smith, Ma'a Nonu, Julian Savea, Aaron Cruden, Aaron Smith, Kieran Read, Richie McCaw (captain), Liam Messam, Luke Romano, Sam Whitelock, Owen Franks, Andrew Hore, Tony Woodcock. Reserves: Keven Mealamu, Ben Franks, Charlie Faumuina, Brodie Retallick, Sam Cane, Tawera Kerr-Barlow, Beauden Barrett, Ryan Crotty.


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