Gregor Paul is the Herald on Sunday's rugby writer

Gregor Paul: Cheika right about selections, wrong about mindset

Where Cheika has struck on something of genuine intrigue, though, is the choice Hansen must make at openside flanker and first-five. Photo / Getty Images
Where Cheika has struck on something of genuine intrigue, though, is the choice Hansen must make at openside flanker and first-five. Photo / Getty Images

Wallabies coach Michael Cheika is right about the All Blacks having a tricky issue to solve at openside flanker and first-five. But he's wrong to say New Zealand don't expect anything from Australia this week.

The All Blacks, for all their Bledisloe dominance in the past 14 years, have never once taken anything for granted.

The Wallabies are going to be a treacherously good side on Saturday night at a venue where the All Blacks haven't got the greatest record. That much is locked into the All Blacks' thinking, so Cheika is unlikely to gain traction by suggesting New Zealand don't believe they have much to fear.

"We'll just be doing our best when we play them," Cheika said yesterday. "I know not many people are expecting us, as he [All Blacks coach Steve Hansen] isn't, to do much with that but we'll prepare to our best and see how we go.

"When they say we've got our own problems that's what they're referring to, the fact that we can't beat them. I don't know what he's upset about. For us, we know how we're thought of I suppose, we know that they think we're no chance to do anything."

Where Cheika has struck on something of genuine intrigue, though, is the choice Hansen must make at openside flanker and first-five. Sam Cane and Aaron Cruden are the men in possession but Ardie Savea and Beauden Barrett have been in sensational form.

Modern test rugby creates opportunity for all for to be effectively used but in the case of Barrett in particular, he's on such a good run at the moment that confining him to 30 minutes off the bench feels like it would be a waste of his talents.

Why use him sparingly this week? Why restrict his influence to a second half cameo as has mostly been his All Blacks' fate when he's shown that he can be a game changer when he starts?

It's a tricky decision for Hansen but it's one they are well set up to handle. Whichever roles the respective players are handed they will buy into that. There won't be any sulking or dramas.

- NZ Herald

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Gregor Paul is the Herald on Sunday's rugby writer

Gregor Paul is the Herald on Sunday's rugby writer. He has written several books on rugby including the Reign of King Henry, Black Obsession and For the Love of the Game.

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