Patrick McKendry is a rugby writer for the Herald.

Patrick McKendry: Steve Hansen still has big decisions to make

The match-ups between Ardie Savea and Sam Cane, plus Beauden Barrett and Aaron Cruden, resulted in knockout victories for the Hurricanes pair over their Chiefs opposites at the weekend, but while their form is compelling and likely to lead to a maiden Super Rugby title on Saturday, it probably won't change the short-term thinking of All Blacks coach Steven Hansen.

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All Blacks squad named for Rugby Championship

Hansen had big decisions to make in naming his 32-man squad for the Rugby Championship today, and he will have more when selecting his squad of 23 to play Australia in Sydney on August 20, but as for naming Savea in the No 7 jersey ahead of Cane, and Barrett as starting playmaker ahead of Cruden? Probably not.

All four will likely play important roles against the Wallabies at ANZ Stadium, with Savea and Barrett poised to play theirs off the reserves bench, a continuation of Hansen's impact plan which reaped big benefits at last year's World Cup.

Hansen will want to keep Michael Cheika guessing for as long as possible ahead of the re-match of the two World Cup finalists, but his initial thinking appears clear. Savea and Barrett offer far more than Cane and Cruden off the bench and for that reason that are likely to stay there for the time being.

Asked about the form of Savea's form in his match-up against Cane in the 25-9 semifinal victory at the Cake Tin, Hansen said: "Sam came off a concussion didn't he? I don't think you can read too much from his performance because I think he went for a concussion test again [during match] and was cleared.

"Obviously he's not at his best. Ardie had an outstanding performance... both of them will be involved in the 23 so it gives us an opportunity to give a one-two punch like we did in the World Cup with our midfielders Conrad [Smith] and Sonny [Bill Williams] or Ma'a [Nonu] and Sonny. That interchange allows us to up the tempo in the game and as long as we do it at the right time we'll get benefits from it.

"I don't think you want to get too carried away with who starts and who finishes. The story is actually about the combination and what we get out of the combination, which is pretty exciting."

The same goes for the first-fives at Hansen's disposal. He has named three - Cruden, Barrett and Highlander Lima Sopoaga - and all could be considered among the best in the world alongside England's Owen Farrell, Australia's Bernard Foley and South Africa's Elton Jantjies, Hansen said.

"All three of them are playing very well and we're very fortunate. I'm not going to name the team for Australia today."

Another conundrum might appear to be what Hansen does with wing Julian Savea, one Hurricanes player who isn't in form. Dropped to the reserves bench for their last two matches, that is likely to continue for Saturday's final against the Lions, but the All Blacks coach in is no doubt that Savea has the ability to bounce back.

"He's lacking confidence. He doesn't lack ability - when he's right he's the best player in the world in his position so it would be foolish to throw him on the scrapheap and say 'go and find your own confidence', that's not going to build it up. In our environment we're confident we can get him to play well. It might not be right at the beginning but... we'll get him there when we need to and when we do we'll get the rewards for it."

There were few surprises in Hansen's squad, with midfielder Williams named and a possibility to play in the return match against the Wallabies in Wellington on August 27 following the Olympics. Chiefs utility Damian McKenzie has missed out due to Hansen's desire to name three halfbacks, but is likely to get his chance in the 36-player squad for November's Northern Hemisphere tour.

Blues midfielder George Moala was included ahead of Chiefs opposite Seta Tamanivalu due to his better defensive ability.

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