While the All Blacks have not been at their premium best this season, two tests against the Wallabies have not caused them too much grief.

They've been interruptions rather than the seismic jolts the Springboks delivered in several rib-rattling contests in Wellington and Pretoria.

Following the announcement of 51 players for tour duty, the All Blacks will head into their third annual transtasman contest next Saturday in Tokyo.


The Wallabies shouldn't cause an upset but there were not many signs about a South African rugby revival before their matches this season either and those warnings will be high on Steve Hansen's list of demands when his men reconvene for the last push of the season. While most public interest will settle on the tests against England then Ireland, the third duel with the Wallabies begins a trip where Hansen and his crew are turning their minds to the demands of next year's World Cup.

The countdown is on and tapering towards that global tournament has begun.

Never say never because Karl Tu'inukuafe has been one of the stars of the year but it's unlikely another player will come from the clouds next year to force his way past such a wealth of experience and talent. Apart from an injured few like Sam Cane and Shannon Frizell, everyone in the frame for the World Cup is filling in airport departure cards for duty in Japan and beyond in the next month.

Dane Coles, Brodie Retallick, Vaea Fifita, Patrick Tuipulotu and Nepo Laulala are a cluster of talent which has been absent through injury, form slumps or other decisions but have ticked the boxes at the right time. Pushing them all the way will be another batch who have been capped or want that honour in the test against Japan.

While the rest of the world looks with envy at the depth of All Black talent and their high achievements, Hansen will turn up the heat even more on his men. If someone is not playing up to the standards or the way he and his coaches want, there are choices in every position.

Hansen should scrawl Akira Ioane's name across the top of the whiteboard as a daily reminder. The loose forward would romp into most test squads and should have demanded a place in a squad of 51 but his work did not match demands the selectors had placed on him.

Mixed team performances in the last three tests are further clips in Hansen's armoury but like the coaches who cajole the best from their teams, he will pick his time for the best impact.

He'll get in the ears of Tu'inukuafe and Joe Moody to bring the best out of their game, he'll work on Ardie Savea to repeat his No 8 levels and pit the experience of Ben Smith against the rising threat of Jordie Barrett. And on it will go. Not every day but when the time is right.


Hansen knows players need to breathe too with a balance in life away from the game and that is one of the gifts he has refined in multiple World Cup assignments.