That the All Blacks selectors are throwing the dice in naming four test debutants for the third test against France becomes more evident when the numbers are examined in detail – this is one of the most inexperienced teams they have ever picked and a world away from the 2015 World Cup final line-up.

That team, which finished well over the top of Australia at Twickenham for a back-to-back success, contained 1339 test caps and was the most experienced side ever to play an international, with men such as Richie McCaw, Kieran Read, Dan Carter, Ma'a Nonu and Conrad Smith leading the way. It had an average age of 28.9 years.

Tomorrow the All Blacks' 23 players charged to finish the series against the French on a bright note contain just 617 caps; 46 per cent of the experience possessed by the class of 2015. It has an average age of 26.2 and contains four debutants, starting blindside flanker Shannon Frizell and centre Jack Goodhue and back-up loose forward Jackson Hemopo and first-five cover Richie Mo'unga.

A victory against France is a non-negotiable as always for Steve Hansen and company but becoming more and more important a year out from their World Cup defence is the need to build depth. In Japan they won't have the capacity to select a team which contained the experience of 2015, but they have to start somewhere and they have decided it's going to be under the roof in Dunedin.


Crusaders pair Goodhue, 23, and Mo'unga, 24, have the look of long-term prospects with the composure to match their physical ability. With depth already in the midfield in the form of Ryan Crotty and Anton Lienert-Brown – who started the first two tests of the series – Hansen didn't have to pick Goodhue but felt compelled to.

All Blacks loose forward Shannon Frizell during an All Blacks training session. Photo / Brett Phibbs
All Blacks loose forward Shannon Frizell during an All Blacks training session. Photo / Brett Phibbs

The All Blacks forwards will be charged with providing a much better base than they could manage in Auckland and Wellington and so it will be a challenging environment for loose forwards Frizell and Hemopo, both 24, to run into. How they go will reveal more of their character but realisitically they are further down the pecking order with Read, Liam Squire and Vaea Fifita injured and Sam Cane being rested after two tough tests.

"Getting them comfortable enough to express themselves is normally the hardest part," Hansen said of the greatest challenge facing his new players this week.

"Having your first introduction to the team can be overwhelming and then when you get your first opportunity to play can be a 'gee whizz' moment or it can bit a moment where everything turns to custard and you don't want that.

"You have to make sure they're mentally ready and there's no doubt from an athletic point of view, talent-wise they're ready, but it's the mental fortitude of going into that arena for the first time [that is key].

"When there are four of them… [ideally] you don't want to put them all on the park at the same time but at some point you'll see them all on there."

It is here that Hansen is breaking what is usually a hard and fast rule for the All Blacks coach. He normally likes to drip-feed inexperienced players in one by one, the theory being that they can better adapt to the unique demands of test rugby alongside battle-hardened teammates.

This is the first time Hansen has picked four debutants for a test. It could be an exhilarating success as the All Blacks attempt to run the French off their feet on the hard and true surface, a devastating failure, or – most likely – a pretty good all-round effort with a few mistakes from his newcomers.

The potential risks are high but so are the rewards, and a couple of months from the Rugby Championship and year out from a World Cup defence in Japan, it's as good a time as any to find out where these young men are at.

All Blacks 2015 World Cup final match-day 23: 1339 caps
All Blacks 2018 v France third test match-day 23: 617 caps

Experience in casualty ward:
Kieran Read: 109 caps
Brodie Retallick: 68 caps
Beauden Barrett: 64 caps
Dane Coles: 56 caps