All Blacks: Centre question looms again for Hansen

By Gregor Paul in Chicago

Another test and another decision for the selectors to make about who to play in the All Blacks midfield.

They no doubt have certainty that Ryan Crotty will be in the No 12 jersey. He's been one of the All Blacks' stars of the season - delivering consistent, high quality performances all year.

But who to play alongside him in the No 13 jersey has been a test-to-test challenge for the coaches as form - both good and bad - and injury have permanently changed the picture.

Malakai Fekitoa, Seta Tamanivalu, Anton Leinert-Brown and George Moala have all been used at various times. Lienert-Brown has started the last three tests and played with a maturity and composure that belies his youth and has earned him a nomination as a World Rugby Breakthrough Player of the Year.

However, defensively at Eden Park, he struggled to close down Israel Folau. It's not an easy job by any means, but the youngster was pulled out of position and beaten on the outside more than once.

If he missed out on selection this week to Fekitoa it wouldn't be a surprise. The powerful Highlanders midfielder hasn't quite had all parts of his game in form this year. His tackling has been outstanding but his running lines and ability to take holes hasn't been what he was hoping for.

Watch: Ian Foster on the Chicago test

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That may not sound like a ringing endorsement to be selected at centre but assistant coach Ian Foster says the coaches are of the view that they will continue to mix and match, depending on their weekly assessments.

"Have we nailed it down to the two guys who we are going to play every single week...I don't think so," he said.

"We have got a lot of choices. I think we have been delighted by the options that we have had through the opportunities given to the likes of Ryan and Anton, Mala and George that all four of them have played well.

"We have got some great options and the competition we think is going to help us get a group that is going to go to the next level and overall that is what our goal is. Overall we are happy."

This journey of discovery has not followed a conventional path but it has given the All Blacks the outcome they were after. They have won tests and built their depth.

What they haven't been able to do as such is build a bona fide combination in the way they did with Ma'a Nonu and Conrad Smith.

"In the ideal world that is probably where you want to go but for whatever reason we seem to have a whole range of them who were putting their hand up.

"Perhaps not in the whole of their game but in parts their strengths were becoming really obvious so we decided to give people opportunity in that position. We felt that there was enough good stuff in each of those guys that it was worth doing that and I think we are reaping the rewards from that.

"The beauty of where we are at now is that we can make sure that whoever is out on the park has got the right skill-set to play who we are playing and the right energy levels and if everyone is pushing we will probably make sure we give everyone opportunities.

"But all we have done is show that we have got great potential and depth. What we have to do now is make sure that whoever is out on the park that they perform at that top level and see that consistency that we have to start proving we have got."

- NZ Herald

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