Steve Hansen's biggest All Blacks concern: Who to pick?

By Campbell Burnes

The All Blacks may have swept Wales 3-0 but there are still a few areas they can improve ahead of August's Rugby Championship. Campbell Burnes looks at Steve Hansen's work-ons.

1) Selection: No 10

There is a prevailing school of thought that Aaron Cruden is the No 1 No 10. But why should that necessarily be so? Cruden played well enough in this series before his injury, but Beauden Barrett offered sheer brilliance in both Wellington and Dunedin and was near flawless off the tee, an area which was hitherto regarded as his weakness, on Saturday night. Lima Sopoaga also produced a telling cameo off the pine at Forsyth Barr Stadium to further complicate matters. We know the selectors think of 23 rather than 15 now, but Super Rugby form over the final month of the competition might just be instructional in this intriguing subplot.

2) Selection: Midfield

The wise men now know they have five quality midfielders to call upon. That number includes Seta Tamanivalu, still raw but full of potential, and is dependent on George Moala making it back from his elbow issue in time for the Rugby Championship. It also includes Charlie Ngatai, whose concussion ruled him out of the series. Neither Ryan Crotty, who was solid as a rock, nor Malakai Fekitoa, did anything to play their way out. Where does that leave Sonny Bill Williams, who will be back in 15s not long after Rio? It should leave him reintegrating in Counties Manukau colours, but don't hold your breath, Steelers fans. He will, one suspects, be fast-tracked into black.

3) Cutting the penalty count

Against the Boks, Pumas and Wallabies from August, the All Blacks will know they cannot cede 62 per cent of the ball and a penalty count close to 2-1 against them and still win convincingly, as they did in Dunedin. That rethink will partly be down to reacting swiftly to differing refereeing interpretations, but also to being slightly more circumspect at the breakdown, where they have yet to really boss the play. Sam Cane cannot afford to be as illegal in his actions in the collisions. Steve Hansen will not be overly worried, but he will want to do due diligence in this area.


4) Addressing the first 10 and last 10 minutes

Wales were well in the contest ... for the first 10 minutes, as they have been in all three tests. Then their kick-chase game did not match the intent of peppering Julian Savea, which in turn played into the counter-attacking hands of Ben Smith and Israel Dagg. It wasn't so much a case of the All Blacks playing poorly, as just not seeing the ball early. Their patience paid off, and they were down just 3-0 when they seized the initiative, but that would not have been the plan. The final 10 minutes were annoying for Hansen, as the game lost structure and passes were needlessly pushed. Let's just put that down to an over-eager group keen to wrap up the series with an exclamation mark.

- NZ Herald

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