Patrick McKendry

Patrick McKendry is a rugby writer for the Herald.

All Blacks: Dilemma for Hansen as unbeaten record looms

Charlie Faumuina must be in with a good chance to start at prop, with Wyatt Crockett on the loosehead.
Charlie Faumuina must be in with a good chance to start at prop, with Wyatt Crockett on the loosehead.

The prospect of finishing the year unbeaten, the first time a major international team has achieved the feat in the professional era, will play a part in Steve Hansen's selections for the Ireland test.

With Ireland having never beaten the All Blacks, and collapsing to a 32-15 defeat to Australia in Dublin yesterday, Hansen probably would have selected a side with development in mind for the test on Monday morning had this year panned out a little differently.

Instead, with 13 victories already, Hansen wants a clean sweep and is likely to select a team which will give him the greatest chance of doing that.

He recognises the fact his men are on the cusp of something special.

There was initially a plan to send several senior players home this week to give them an extended break. It is not known who he had in mind, but with Dan Carter and Tony Woodcock already ruled out of the test at the Aviva Stadium, Hansen has decided to keep the squad intact after getting the required sign-off from the New Zealand Rugby Union.

Of the forwards, Charlie Faumuina must be in with a good chance to start at prop, with Wyatt Crockett on the loosehead. Hansen could go for Luke Romano in the second row along with either Sam Whitelock or Brodie Retallick. Aaron Cruden should get the nod at No10 after performing well as Carter's replacement at Twickenham, although Beauden Barrett could have a claim here too.

Barrett has never started a test at first-five, whereas the selectors know what they've got with Cruden - a player with ice in his veins like Carter and who is closing the gap on him.

Cory Jane could come into the frame on one wing.

Overall, though, Hansen is wary of the twin evils of too much tinkering and looking too far ahead.

"If we start talking about the outcome and thinking about it we might drop the ball," he said before the team flew out to Dublin. "It's got to be business as usual and pick the right team with people who've got energy and are ready to go and prepare as well as we possibly can. If we do that we know we've got the talent to get the outcome that we all want ... The danger is we go 'whew' rather than 'wow', now we've got an opportunity."

Hansen was perplexed at some of referee Craig Joubert's decisions, particularly at the breakdown, but that was overwhelmed by the satisfaction at the manner of his side's victory.

They had to keep their composure as England controlled territory and possession to overtake a 14-point lead at 22-20 and then finished the stronger thanks to their set piece expertise and superior fitness.

Of the lineout - and there was an important steal which led to Ma'a Nonu's clinching try - Hansen said: "A lot of that is down to the work that Jeremy [Thrush] and Luke Romano are doing. They're the guys who are driving the defensive lineout, and obviously [Mike Cron] the forwards coach. We've got a big lineout now. A few years ago we had two jumpers but now we've got four, probably five if you include Richie [McCaw], and that's a luxury."

- APNZ

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