Wynne Gray is a Herald columnist

Wynne Gray: All Blacks know to keep foot on throat

Ben Smith has scored 10 tries in nine tests.  Photo / Getty Images
Ben Smith has scored 10 tries in nine tests. Photo / Getty Images

Keep the chokehold on the Wallabies.

That has to be the immediate motive for the All Blacks as they look towards selection for the last transtasman test and their ideas for the end-of-year tour to Europe.

Merging those ideas will get further debate this weekend as the All Black selectors work through their plans for the final domestic test in Dunedin and choice of the group to go to Europe.

That is likely to number 36 for the four-test schedule against Japan, France, England and Scotland.

After top performances in most of his 75 tests, Conrad Smith is on leave until next year's Super 15 series so a new centre will be required for Dunedin.

Coach Steve Hansen and selectors Ian Foster and Grant Fox have seen Ben Smith produce quality performances throughout this year when he was shifted to wing for the injured Cory Jane.

Smith has scored 10 tries in nine tests and translated his fullback skills to prove equally adept on the right wing. The shift has been so positive the selectors will think hard about moving him to yet another position.

The same selectors used Smith at centre on tour last year against Scotland in a nod towards their ideas.

If they don't make a namesake for namesake choice at centre, who do they choose?

Ma'a Nonu perhaps, but that would remove him from his more potent duties at second five-eighths. Charles Piutau may be an option but he is more a fullback/wing cover and could get a chance to run at centre against Japan.

So if Ben Smith settles into centre on his home ground in Dunedin, Julian Savea and either Jane or Piutau will be on the other wing. Jane returned from knee reconstruction surgery to come off the bench against Auckland and started last night against Hawkes Bay.

The All Black and Wallaby squads are both on leave after their gruelling travel schedules to South Africa and Argentina in the Rugby Championship. The Wallabies regained some control with a win against the Pumas while the All Blacks stayed unbeaten with their stirring victory against the Boks at Ellis Park.

Anyone thinking there will be widespread selection changes because Dunedin does not count will be mistaken. The top All Blacks need to keep ticking over, everyone wants to maintain the momentum and payback has to come for the 18-all stalemate last season in Brisbane.

The Wallabies were average in that test and the All Blacks off their game as they hit a glitch in their winning streak. It was one of two last-season hiccups to remedy.

After this two-week break for the All Blacks there is another fortnight gap until the start of the tour to Europe so the top men need to stay in match mode.

Injuries or unavailability have allowed the selectors more chances to evaluate some like Piutau, Beauden Barrett, Sam Cane, Steven Luatua, Jeremy Thrush, Ben Afeaki, Dane Coles, Charlie Faumuina, Francis Saili, Ryan Crotty, Tom Taylor and Colin Slade.

Injuries which need to be assessed for Dunedin include Aaron Cruden after he limped off Ellis Park with another knee problem and Owen Franks who missed the match because of a groin strain.

- NZ Herald

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Wynne Gray is a Herald columnist

The latest commentary and analysis from senior rugby writer Wynne Gray. Wynne has been covering the All Blacks for more than 27 years and has attended more than 230 All Blacks tests live for the Herald.

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