Ireland should expect no let-up from All Blacks
June 3, 2012
Dan Carter will ensure that the world champion All Blacks will be as competitive as ever for Ireland's tour © Getty Images
I hope the Irish do not imagine that they might just catch the All Blacks in a transitional phase as they prepare for the first Test in Auckland next Saturday.
Today's first All Blacks' squad announcement of the 2012 season reveals a well-balanced mix of the old and the new, the experienced and the callow, which ensures continuity whilst retaining the power and the cutting edge.
The historical pressures associated with the All Blacks' World Cup failures have been released but this does not mean that they will approach the first Test in anything resembling a relaxed mode. As Richie McCaw reminded us this week, the intention is to win every game and whilst most team captains of any serious Test side would say this, you just know that McCaw means it. All Black history backs this up. McCaw also believes that there is room for improvement in his game, that he hasn't yet played the perfect game.
If the skipper has nothing to prove to anybody, the same is not necessarily true of the new coaching/management unit. Chief coach Steve Hansen was part of the World Cup winning triumvirate and it will be fascinating to observe how he gets along with assistant Ian Foster. I have doubts about Foster, doubts which have grown stronger the better the Chiefs have performed this season. The Chiefs achieved nothing under Foster's coaching regime and have yet to achieve anything in 2012, but they are making their presence felt with some very compelling performances under the guidance of Dave Rennie and Wayne Smith. How much of this is down to Rennie and how much to Smith? All Blacks fans will be hoping it is the former, because Smith's All Blacks days are done and Rennie could well be a contender for the head All Black coaching spot once Hansen has done his dash.
Whilst injuries have prevented the inclusion of Cory Jane and Richard Kahui amongst the backs, and Jerome Kaino in the forwards, Hansen has still been able to name a formidable looking unit. The half back selections are especially interesting, where there must be lingering doubts about the fitness of fly-half Dan Carter and the form of scrum-half Piri Weepu. In the Crusaders' emphatic victory over the Highlanders in Christchurch on Friday night, Carter was clearly in pain following one or two of his place kicks. The groin injury which cruelly ended his World Cup campaign prematurely is still troubling him and this no doubt explains the inclusion of two other No.10s, Aaron Cruden and Beauden Barrett. Both have been in fine form and are exciting talents. Simple wear and tear could be bringing Carter's illustrious career to a conclusion but the All Blacks have ample cover as they look forward to the defence of their World Cup crown in 2015.
Weepu's circumstances are more complicated and more curious. In the Blues' defeat to the Chiefs on Saturday evening he again sat out the entire 80 minutes on the bench, not great preparation for a Test series. There are clearly scrum halves in better form then Weepu, and scrum-halves in better physical shape, but he somehow manages to retain the favour of the national coaches. It will be interesting to see how they employ him alongside the talented and exciting Aaron Smith.
Amongst the outside backs there are recalls for Tamati Ellison, Hosea Gear, Zac Guildford and Ben Smith. Gear's is particularly well-deserved, his demeanour throughout the less than gracious way he has been treated by the All Black coaching staff over the past year exemplary. There is clearly still time, and the opportunity, for Gear to cement a starting spot. I hope he does so as he is an exciting and gifted footballer. On the other flank we can expect to see Wellington's Julian Savea unleashed, the latest in a long line of powerful athletes terrorising the opposition from the wing. In 2012 Sonny Bill Williams has added much to his game, varied his plays so that he is so much more than the off-loader of old. It would be good to see him getting a start or two alongside Conrad Smith. Ma'a Nonu's move north to Auckland has not been a great success, but he does reserve his best for the men in black.
This is also the case with veteran Auckland lock Ali Williams which presumably provides justification for his inclusion. Young guns Luke Romano and Brodie Retallick provide much of the excitement amongst the locks, the latter a raw-boned young giant who should develop into a formidable unit by the time of the next World Cup. In the front row Ben Tameifuna slots in alongside much more experienced campaigners and in the back-row Sam Cane has the chance to learn from McCaw with the view to replacing him at some stage. This reflects good thinking by the selectors, the identification of exceptional young talent and then giving them the opportunity to serve an apprenticeship alongside hardened test veterans.
So, don't expect anything other that a Test whitewash for the Irish. The All Blacks will, once again, have too much power and pace in all departments.
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