If New Zealand's top players thought they had it tough in 2017, it is going to be just as demanding for them next year, if not more so.

It is expected that there will again be 14 tests in the calendar year as there were this year.

But the difference in 2018 will be the extended and revamped Super Rugby format and the slight tweak that will be made to the timing of the last five tests of the year which are likely to fall on consecutive weekends.

Next year is going to be brutal and test the depth of the All Blacks as much as it has been this year because injury is going to be inevitable.


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As hard as this season has been, the All Blacks at least had breathing space ahead of the Lions series. The last round of Super Rugby matches were on the first weekend of June, with the All Blacks then having close to 13 days preparation before they played Samoa on June 16 and another eight days before the first test.

Next year they will go into the first test of the June series against France on the back of just six days together. Making it even harder is that in the final round of Super Rugby matches, seven days before the first test, the Highlanders will play the Hurricanes and the Chiefs take on the Crusaders.

New Zealand local derbies are notoriously tough - bruising contests that are close to test match intensity. Those two games will almost certainly be high impact encounters as all four sides involved are expected to be challenging to make the playoffs.

It will be a nervous weekend for All Blacks coach Steve Hansen to see how many of his chosen troops come through that round unscathed. He will then have barely two full training sessions to prepare the side to take on France at Eden Park.

Aaron Smith. Photo / Getty Images.
Aaron Smith. Photo / Getty Images.

Because of that it is probable that as has been the case in previous seasons - this year was a little different because of the extended Super Rugby format and the longer preparation time ahead of the Lions series - that the All Blacks will ask to run mini-training camps at some stage before June.

That may involve a wider training group gathering for a couple of days in May to do some elementary preparation.

After the three tests against France, players will be straight back into Super Rugby. The Blues players will only have six days rest after the third test before they take on the Reds, while the Highlanders and Chiefs will clash in what is likely to be a game that will significant bearing on the final placings in the New Zealand Conference.


The unknown next year is the impact of the extra local derby games. Last year and in 2016 New Zealand sides played six each games against each other. Next year that will jump to eight - with New Zealand teams playing each other twice.

There will also be an extra round with 16 pool games rather than 15.

The international calendar looks much the same with the exception coming in October when it is thought the third Bledisloe Cup test will be played a week later than normal.

That means the All Blacks will have two weeks off after their final Rugby Championship game in South Africa, before, it is believed, heading to Japan to play Australia in late October and then Japan on November 3.

They then play England in London on November 10 with two other tests against Northern Hemisphere opposition to be confirmed on November 17 and November 24.

That will see them tackle six tests in eight weeks during the Rugby Championship and then five tests in five weeks on their extended Northern Hemisphere tour.

The demands made of the players will be every bit as extreme which is why national and Super Rugby coaches are going to have to reach consensus on how to manage workloads.

"Definitely the Lions series was tough and coming out of it was hard but as players you move on fairly quickly as there is always a next challenge sitting around the corner and usually that is the next Saturday," says All Blacks flanker Sam Cane.

"Quite often it can be for a different team. But you are always keen to put your best foot forward and do the jersey proud. So you just keep trucking and I think the coaches this year ave been pretty smart about managing guys who have had a big workload. But I think we are in a pretty good space."