Gregor Paul

Gregor Paul is the Herald on Sunday's rugby writer

All Blacks: Panic over No 10? No way

The All Blacks are down to their fourth and fifth choice of No 10s for Saturday's test and yet the Wallabies have the bigger worries at first five-eighth.

Australia will do their best to make out the injuries to Daniel Carter, Aaron Cruden and Beauden Barrett are calamitous, potentially outcome-changing. But panic won't be spreading through the All Black camp: Steve Hansen won't be on his knees, eyes shut, head angled up, hands clasped in front trying to illicit divine inspiration to steer his side through this one.

No need. In Tom Taylor and Colin Slade he has better-equipped test five-eighths than both Matt Toomua and Quade Cooper.

If it was left to pure objective assessment - allegiances left out of it - would anyone rank the available four first-fives differently to this: Taylor, Slade, Toomua then Cooper?

If they did, good luck justifying it. The only grounds for debate sit with Taylor's lack of experience. He's uncapped so there is always the chance that if he's thrown out there - and he'd be the favourite to start - he'll look around, take a giant case of stage fright and implode.

But he doesn't seem the sort of person or player who would be overawed by it all. He's been so composed with the Crusaders since he made his debut last year - yet another typically assured product of the Canterbury development programme.

The game comes easily to him, in appreciation and execution. Not only does he know when to play for territory, he has the booming kicking game to deliver on his intentions.

As for his goal-kicking - he lands about 90 per cent. That's phenomenal - better than Carter; better than Cruden and Barrett, better than just about anyone in the world game.

The All Blacks would rather not have had this mini drama with so many injuries, but now that they do, watch them adapt and deal with it.

The forwards will no doubt take greater control of possession: keep things tighter for longer with more pick and go. Ma'a Nonu and Conrad Smith will makes their voices heard - influence the decision-making more and alleviate the pressure on whichever No 10 plays.

That's how it is with this team. That's what they did when Steven Luatua was suddenly pitched into the fray late last week. The Wallabies thought they would have something to exploit, but Luatua was superb.

The Wallabies - and they are fairly bereft of things to feel good about - will see weakness in the All Blacks at No 10. But they are wasting their time. Hansen has read The Art of War - he knows the value of following Sun Tzu's genius of making rivals think you are weak where you are strong.

- NZ Herald

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