Wynne Gray is a Herald columnist

Hansen: Charlie Ngatai falls behind Sonny Bill Williams in All Blacks pecking order

The concussion which removed Charlie Ngatai from rugby for the last few months is likely to count against him for the Rugby Championship.

If Chiefs teammate Sonny Bill Williams survives the Olympics, he will be chosen for the All Black squad and eased back into test condition.

Coach Steve Hansen delivered that probable scenario as he talked through a variety of topics today on Radio Sport.

Selection in the back three was very competitive with Ben Smith, Israel Dagg, Beauden Barrett, Julian Savea and Waisake Naholo all in strong form.

Midfield was even more complicated. A fit Williams would not be used in the opening test against the Wallabies but would be in the frame after that.

Ryan Crotty had played well throughout the June series against Wales and George Moala had been every effective in his test start.

Listen: Steven Hansen on the DRS Show

Malakai Fekitoa and Seta Tamanivalu were also involved but Ngatai had missed out because of his concussion and it was now a matter of him getting back into training and up to speed. Selection on the end of year tour was probably his best avenue.

The Wales series had brought a number of benefits as the changed leadership group and newer players were put under pressure and the coaching group had got into their work again.

Utility back Damian McKenzie had not played but it was "a matter of when not if" for someone with his talent.

Australian teams may not have fared well so far in Super rugby but that was no indication about the Wallabies. They would be hurting after the England series and would be "competitive" when the All Blacks first played them in Sydney on August 20.

Hansen was not concerned about New Zealand sides beating each other up, "worry was a wasted emotion" and if players were injured they had contingency plans for replacements.
He would decide by the end of this month whether he would sign a contract to coach the All Blacks beyond next year's visit from the Lions.

- NZ Herald

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