New Zealand Rugby
Hansen has an embarrassment of riches
June 25, 2013
All Blacks scrum-half Aaron Smith repaid the faith shown by selectors © Getty Images
There has been much talk about the value of a Test series in mid-year, and the All Blacks versus France series worked out as the perfect recipe for both sides to introduce new blood while also giving old hands and experienced campaigners the opportunity to prove themselves.
With punch and counter-punch, both teams had the opportunity to make adjustments, have depth in their squads and find out what they needed to find out about the present, and the future. Both teams went into the series facing a little bit of the unknown, prepared to risk defeat in the face of development.
If you're Steve Hansen, did you find out what you needed to find out? I think it was a resounding "yes". From established All Blacks finding form, regaining confidence and playing like All Blacks, his faith has been repaid.
In support of this, new players were introduced to the All Black environment in tough Test matches in difficult circumstances, and all contributed in different ways while learning a great deal about what is required at the international level. That showcased our ability to find new talent and, to a man, you would have to report all the new All Black inductees made the most of their opportunities.
What also emerged was that a number of the not-so-new All Blacks, who needed to re-establish their reputations in the All Blacks jersey, not only did that but in all cases enhanced them. Whether it be Brodie Retallick or Luke Romano, Aaron Cruden or Ben Smith, their performances suggested they have long tenures ahead of them.
A few of these, who had us asking so many questions, provided some definitive answers. Aaron Smith showed 2012 wasn't a one-off, Wyatt Crockett proved his worth and Dane Coles started to deliver on his potential.
Forever the optimist, I can't see All Blacks rugby being in a better position than it is now with talent such as Ben Afeaki, Steven Luatua , Matt Todd and Charles Piutau waiting in the wings for their opportunity. The production line doesn't look like running out any time soon.
Take into account players like Luke Braid, Brad Shields, TJ Perenara and Tim Nanai-Williams, who can't get a look into the All Blacks, and it says we are well and truly blessed at this time.
Was the performance against the French perfect? No.
Did we completely dominate them? In some cases, yes.
There were contrasting performances during the three Tests and a lot of this was as simple as combinations. Week one the All Blacks were disjointed, a little unorganised but still disciplined enough to get a victory. In week two the same combination found its chemistry in a tough, combative environment, and executed its game plan to perfection. In week three a new combination struggled to find its thread but once again delivered a winning performance.
The biggest challenge the All Blacks selectors have now is deciding which combination serves them best. With so much excitement and so much experience to choose from, as much as it may be a luxury, it presents a significant challenge.
Steve Hansen will be well aware the big picture is 2015. He showed his willingness and desire introducing new players but is there a balance between winning now and winning then?
The great thing is the French provided a real threat and all of those types of series give food for thought. In the Rugby Championship we welcome back one of the All Blacks greats in Richie McCaw. Imagine how excited he'll be after watching the France series.
McCaw's back, Charlie Faumuina could be available and let's not forget a little fellow named Cory Jane come the end of the year. The challenge will be how do we keep all of these players interested until 2015?
It's not so much about who makes the 28 for the Rugby Championship, it's about the ones who don't.
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