Patrick McKendry is a rugby and boxing writer for the Herald.

Rugby: New level will take time - Hansen

They are, as coach Steve Hansen insisted recently, in "re-establishment", rather than "re-building" mode after they reached new heights in defending the World Cup late last year, but the All Blacks aren't expecting to take their game to another level straight away against Wales at Eden Park on Saturday.

Their aims will be slightly more modest given they have a new captain and vice-captain in Kieran Read and Ben Smith, plus a new incumbent first-five in Aaron Cruden and midfield of Ryan Crotty and Malakai Fekitoa. There will be of course, no Richie McCaw or Dan Carter, either.

What they will be is well prepared, though. After a fortnight of preparation - unheard of for the All Blacks at this time of year - they should take the field with clarity and intensity, ready to bring the form most of Hansen's players have in Super Rugby to a Wales team who lost to an under-strength England at Twickenham last weekend.


Hansen has gone for the tried and tested for his starting XV, and his game plan will be based around doing the basics well, with the potential to play at a speed Wales that will be unable to live with. For that, Ardie Savea is likely to see game time off the reserves bench to lift the speed and intensity within the pack, with Beauden Barrett doing likewise in the backline.

However, asked whether he expected his team to show quick improvements from the World Cup, Hansen said: "I think that would be unrealistic in the first game of the season.

"We've tried to keep it really simple and clear to get that clarity of 'this is what I have to do', and therefore bring that intensity that comes from having clarity of thought. And as the season goes on we'll start to develop a game that might look a little different to the one we started with."


He acknowledged he has selected a team that "most of the pundits out there could have picked", and while there are six new caps in the wider squad, only two - Ardie Savea and Seta Tamanivalu - have been named in the match-day squad, and in their case on the reserves bench.

Hansen is expecting Wales to test the All Blacks' relatively inexperienced midfield of Crotty and Fekitoa via 110kg centre Jamie Roberts and Jonathan Davies, plus a series of kicks above and behind them through first-five Dan Biggar.

He will also expect Wales to ask questions up front through 100-cap lock Alun Wyn Jones, and skipper and flanker Sam Warburton. They will be up for the occasion and take time to break down, with back-up lock Patrick Tuipulotu likely to replace Luke Romano in the second half to continue the heavy lifting.

As a former coach of Wales, Hansen has experienced from both sides the rivalry between the two rugby nations and knows the passion involved.


"They see us as the team they want to beat. There's enough history being written about how long it's been and it's going to happen one day. This is a really good Welsh side and it could happen this weekend if we don't turn up and play as well as we can and I think then we'd really see them singing in the valleys.

"They're desperate to get a win and that makes them a dangerous beast."

For Cruden, who hasn't played a test in 19 months due to injury, and who Hansen said was now the incumbent No10 now, the feeling was one of excitement.

Cruden said of his recall on the back of his form for the Chiefs: "For me this year, I've tried to come back and enjoy my rugby. It's been working for me this year and I guess I've found a recipe I'll try to continue in the black jersey."

- NZ Herald

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