There's always been a bit of Obi-Wan Kenobi about Steve Hansen as All Blacks coach.

He's had a curious knack of using his intuition to know when young players are ready to make their test entry.

Call it a sixth sense or a Jedi ability to use the Force, but Hansen has, since 2012, been uncannily good at blooding and nurturing new players.

Only on rare occasions have promising new arrivals not been able to perform up to expectation and similarly it has been just as rare for a new arrival to disappear as quickly as they arrived, unable to cope with the demands.


It still happens, but not as often as it used to and much of that is due to the All Blacks being more patient and circumspect in the way they develop inexperienced players.

There is no real science to it says Hansen, other than this year the coaching group began the season with a broad plan to use the first test against Argentina as a game to introduce a few new faces.

As much as there would be a need to find answers about some players, there would also be a need to start managing the workload of some of the senior players.

While in the case of Richie Mo'unga there was good reason given his Super Rugby form to consider starting him earlier than now, Hansen said that resisting that pressure was relatively easy.

"It was more about time in the environment," says Hansen. "At 10 you have go to drive the team and you have got to be very comfortable in your own skin in the environment to be able to do that. So, you have to give some time in the group to be comfortable.

"We have got a quality squad so that allows you to then be confident to make changes for the very reasons we have stated: that being, one, we have a long season so if we don't play players off the bench or from the wider group then we are going to flatten the guys who have to play every week.

"And two, if we don't play them we don't grow them. But the fact they are very talented athletes makes it a little easier."

All Blacks coach Steve Hansen. Photo / Getty
All Blacks coach Steve Hansen. Photo / Getty

So for the last month or so Hansen and his fellow coaches have been watching, talking and quietly assessing who on the periphery might be ready to step up in Nelson.


The answer they reached was Mo'unga, Nehe Milner-Skudder, Shannon Frizell and Te Toiroa Tahuriorangi.

Jackson Hemopo would probably have been in that group too but for the fact he's suffering from a bruised knee.

"You have just got to go with your instincts and we haven't been too bad about that," says Hansen.

"I could blab on about how you know, but you don't really. You watch and you get a feel for how the guy is travelling, the athlete himself and you say right ho let's give it a go.

"Test rugby is totally different to Super Rugby. There is always pressure when you are in the All Blacks because you are expected to play well and you have so much more scrutiny happening. It is not just the Canterbury fans looking, it is everyone in the world.

"That brings its own pressure but again when you have been in the environment for a wee while you have the ability to understand that and embrace it and walk towards it."

And this intuition will be at the core of the All Blacks selection for the remainder of the year as they try to navigate their way through nine tests in 13 weeks.

Most likely the games against the Boks, England and Ireland will have been identified as tests where the All Blacks will want all of their best players in action.

But for the other tests, it will be a case of juggling the resources and guessing who is mentally fizzing and who has the capacity to deliver something on the day.

It will be a horses for courses policy for those other games and as he has done since he came into the job six years ago, Hansen will back himself to know which particular horses to send into battle.