Gallaher Cup - New Zealand v France, Third Test
Steve Hansen unconcerned by oldest backline
June 21, 2013
Dan Carter is the third-oldest All Blacks fly-half in history © Getty Images
The All Blacks will field their oldest backline in history against France in the third Gallaher Cup Test in New Plymouth on Saturday, with a combined age of 200 years, and an average age of more than 28, but the selectors are still content to bide their time to commence succession plans.
Five-eighth Dan Carter and long-serving midfield partners Ma'a Nonu and Conrad Smith are all 31, giving the heart of the world champions' backline a hardened feel after young halves Aaron Smith and Aaron Cruden and wing Julian Savea were dropped to remove the youth element. Carter is the third-oldest All Black first-five to play a Test since World War I while Conrad Smith is fourth oldest on the list of midfielders. Nonu is sixth. The age record of the backline surpasses that of the teams that played Australia in Hong Kong three years ago (197 combined years) and South Africa in Johannesburg in 1976 (196). Both those sides lost.
The game offered a chance to play in-form wing Ben Smith at centre in place of Conrad Smith, who will take a break from rugby later this year, but All Blacks coach Steve Hansen decided not to experiment this week despite the diminishing depth in midfield as top contenders head overseas. Hansen said Ben Smith was establishing himself at wing, which was proving invaluable. "We just didn't want to burden him with another positional change at this stage. We wanted him to go out and have another really good game. Conrad's not going to be there at the end of the year but there's plenty of time to put Ben at centre if we need to. I'm not too bothered when it happens ... Ben has got the capabilities of just jumping in straight away."
Carter has sneaked past playmaking greats Andrew Mehrtens and Grant Fox in the age stakes, but he says he feels fresh and ready to prove himself after a hand injury. The 93-Test veteran was impressed by the strides Cruden made between the first and second Tests. The All Blacks' kick-based game plan was delivered with aplomb by Cruden, but Carter said he felt no pressure to emulate the control of the Chiefs No.10, who is breathing closely down his neck for a starting spot. "It's not really something I think about. I like to bring it back to myself and what I can do to be the best player that I can be," he said.