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

All Blacks: Depth sees coach calm in crisis

Training camps leave All Blacks well placed to call on back-ups after first, second and third choices injured.

Coach Steve Hansen said yesterday that training ran smoothly with Slade and Taylor directing traffic. Photo / NZPA
Coach Steve Hansen said yesterday that training ran smoothly with Slade and Taylor directing traffic. Photo / NZPA

You build depth so when a crisis strikes you can navigate through the disaster.

Three pivots are unavailable for the All Blacks' Rugby Championship encounter with Australia at the Cake Tin in Wellington on Saturday night and there are few sides in the international game who could cope with such a fallout.

Dan Carter (calf), Aaron Cruden (knee) and Beauden Barrett (calf) will all watch from the stands as Tom Taylor or Colin Slade pulls on the No10 jersey for the All Blacks.

Cruden and Barrett were hurt in last Saturday's 47-29 win over the Wallabies in Sydney, while Carter was injured a fortnight ago.

The first-five situation is reminiscent of the 2011 World Cup when Stephen Donald, nicknamed "Beaver", was rustled up from whitebaiting to play in the tournament's final, where he kicked the match-winning penalty as the country's fourth-choice pivot.

Carter saw the funny side of the injury situation yesterday when he tweeted: "Does anyone know where Beaver is at the moment."

(He is currently with the Mitsubishi Dynoboars in Japan.)

For the past two years, the All Blacks have held wider training group camps and some people have questioned their timing and validity.

But it's hard to deny they have contributed to making this week an easier one for the All Blacks given Taylor has spent time with the side in the past, while Slade has 10 previous test appearances to his credit.

Coach Steve Hansen said yesterday that training ran smoothly with Slade and Taylor directing traffic.

"We've tried to create an environment where regardless of if you've played 117 tests or you've played none, that everyone's treated the same," Hansen said. "You might listen ... to the 117-test guy a little bit more than the zero-test guy when it comes to an idea but by and large if the team room needs cleaning, the 101-test guy can clean it just as well as the zero-test guy.

"I think that culture and that environment makes it easy for people to come in to because they know where they stand and they've got to just get on and do their job."

The proof will of course come on Saturday night. Slade never quite convinced in the black jersey from 2010-2011 and didn't experience a lot of highs during the 2013 Super rugby season with the Highlanders.

On the other hand, Taylor didn't start a game at first-five for the Crusaders this year as he found a home in the No12 jersey.

"Both players; I'm confident they've got the skills to do what we want them to do," Hansen said. "They're confident people and we've got Tom Taylor, he's a 90 per cent goalkicker and Colin's a pretty accomplished goalkicker too."

The All Blacks were also dealt an injury to their forward pack yesterday when lock Luke Romano was ruled out of the Rugby Championship due to a torn adductor tendon.

Sam Whitelock and Brodie Retallick are set to form the second-row duo for this weekend with Jeremy Thrush on the bench.

Hansen expected an inevitable Wallabies backlash this Saturday after last weekend's hiding.

"I think they've only got one response possible. I think they'll come at us with everything they've got and they'll have a huge amount of intensity," he said. "I think they made a massive amount of unforced errors and if they get that out of their game then they're right in the performance so we have to improve our game to match that."

Meanwhile, All Blacks centre Conrad Smith was limited in training yesterday due to a sore ankle but Hansen expected him to be fit for Saturday.


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