Gregor Paul is the Herald on Sunday's rugby writer

Gregor Paul: All Blacks selectors face balancing act

Beauden Barrett could get a chance to start against Wales in the third test. Photo / Getty
Beauden Barrett could get a chance to start against Wales in the third test. Photo / Getty

The series in the bag and a basic foundation laid, the All Blacks may turn their attention in Dunedin to finding out more about the players they have not yet unleashed against Wales.

Wales remain a credible threat, a side with enough punch left to damage the All Blacks if they are given the chance. Against that, though, coach Steve Hansen needs to see if Elliot Dixon, Liam Squire, Nathan Harris and Lima Sopoaga can find their feet at the highest level of the game.

It will be a balancing act for the selectors - a case of them having to work out how many new faces they can introduce without derailing the momentum that has been built in the first two tests.

The test in Dunedin is the last before the Rugby Championship. The All Blacks, therefore, want to finish the series strongly, play the sort of rugby they have managed in second half patches and leave themselves in good mental shape ahead of going to Sydney in August.

Yet they also need to know whether Dixon, who has been impressive in Super Rugby for two seasons now, can make his abrasive and high energy brand of rugby work in the test arena.

They will want to see if Squire can bring his dominant tackling to the party and whether Sopoaga's composure and reading of the game is as good as they think it is.

There will no doubt, too, be a desire to give Harris more of a run than he's had and as Hansen weighs up the omnipresent risk against reward equation, the scales tip in favour of this being a test where the All Blacks will make more changes than usual.

Aaron Cruden's neck has been deemed to be free of any structural change but as he woke up stiff and sore yesterday it's probable he may be rested this week.

That will open the door to a new No 10 and while there will be temptation to start with Sopoaga on his home patch, it will most likely be resisted.

"I don't think it will be too difficult," said Hansen. "I think the bloke who came on last night [Barrett] did a pretty good job.

"We have got a good back-up in Lima coming off the bench if we do it that way or we can go the other way and put Lima into start. Beauden probably deserves to get the opportunity."

Given that the selectors know just about everything they need to about Jerome Kaino, he may be rested this week to allow Dixon to fill the No 6 jersey.

Given the excellence of the All Blacks' lineout, there will be wariness about tampering with the key personnel - but again, the selectors know everything about Dane Coles and not so much about Harris.

To go into the Rugby Championship with Coles having dominated nearly all of the game time in June would carry risks and then there is the question about what to do with Julian Savea.

Should he return this week and if so, for whom? It would be hard to leave out Israel Dagg after his polished performance, so if Savea is to return, it might be in place of Waisake Naholo.

That would be a like-for-like replacement and reunite a back three who who were the go-to combination throughout 2013 and much of 2014.

These are questions the selectors are happy to be confronting as it indicates that they have achieved much of what they set out to do in the first tests.

"We are trucking along pretty well," said Hansen. "We have had two good wins early in the season and while they are not perfect and yes there is a lot of improvement to be made, there has been some good composure.

"We scored five tries which we have got to be happy with - although we let in a couple of soft ones. Steadily as we go through this series I would expect us to improve."

- NZ Herald

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