All Blacks building depth that is set to prove a game-changer at 2019 World Cup

Steve Hansen has used 55 All Blacks in 2017, and 44 of them on this northern tour. This does not apply to the Boks at present under Coetzee

As insurance policies go, Steve Hansen may just have a dandy a couple of years out from the next World Cup. The All Blacks have been better, for sure, but have they ever been deeper than they are right now?

It’s a legitimate question to ask as Hansen leads a 43-strong leviathan around France and the UK this November. They will briefly number 44 when Akira Ioane joins them from his Maori commitments in Bordeaux and then return to a more modest 37 following the Lyon midweeker, by which time the injured Jerome Kaino and a half-dozen Baabaas ring-ins will have jetted back to New Zealand.

The answer to the earlier question is almost certainly no. This may not be an All Blacks squad humming on all cylinders, a la the 2015 World Cup champions, or their 2016 successors, or even the 2013 perfect year men, but they are deeper than Voltaire, which could yet be the single most important advantage they hold over their global rivals heading towards Japan in 2019.

All Blacks coach Steve Hansen has taken the biggest All Blacks squad to the northern hemisphere.

Rugby is a brutal, gladiatorial game, and only getting more so. The professional level of the sport is played nigh on 10 months of the year, and it is exacting a massive toll. Injuries are becoming not just a part of the game, but the dominant factor any coach has to combat when preparing for a campaign of any sort.

France had 19 players officially unavailable for their test against the All Blacks at Stade de France, and that’s just nine games into the new Top 14 season. Clubs in the UK and France are already dealing with long-term injury lists as high as 15 or 16, with some struggling to put full squads on the park.

Of course Hansen knows this. And his 2017 campaign has been mapped out to reflect it. It’s no coincidence that the All Blacks added a Barbarians and midweek French XV match to their three mandated tests on this tour.

That created, in effect, two non-test matchups, and gave Hansen the ideal stage on which to run his dirty-dirties, or second-tier men. It’s all very well bringing people on tour for experience, but if you can give them legitimate international matches as well, then even better.

Ironically injuries in his own group have also helped Hansen further build his depth this year. He had seven top players either crocked or unavailable for personal reasons when he set out for London, and Kaino became the eighth when a knee injury forced him out after the Baabaas clash.

By manager Darren Shand’s count the All Blacks have used 55 players in and around their various engagements in 2017, and that is an unprecedented number.

It is also a number that won’t upset Hansen and assistant Ian Foster as they look to build a depth chart that their chasing rivals, such as England, Ireland, the Springboks and Australia, can only look at with envy.

The All Blacks have legitimate international quality three deep in probably every position bar halfback. And you can bet finding a successor to the departing Tawera Kerr-Barlow will be their No 1 priority in 2018.

“We’re trying to grow some more depth, and we’re doing that,” says Hansen. “People don’t understand just how tough it is when you first come into the All Blacks. They expect the result to be clinical and precise, but the reality is that’s not the case.

“Sometimes, particularly when you’ve got a young group, there is going to be inconsistency. You’ve just got to be patient and take your time. I know for a fact we’ll end up with some quality people [at the end of this tour] and have a good group to be able to select from in 2019.

“The key thing this year is we’ve had a number of injuries, suspensions and personal tragedies that have exposed a wider base than we probably thought we would do this year. But at the beginning of next year when everyone is available we should have a bigger pool to pick from, and more experienced people too which should give us a boost to the next level.’

Think about it. Bring back Ben Smith, Nehe Milner-Skudder, Israel Dagg and maybe even a rejuvenated Julian Savea, and suddenly you have all sorts of options in the back three. Same when you add Owen Franks and Joe Moody to the suddenly bulging prop stock.

Halfback is the only position where Hansen would have just a little concern. Maybe No 8 too, but there are not a lot of opportunities there behind the skipper.

At No 9, behind Aaron Smith and TJ Perrenara, he does not have an obvious backup. It’s why he brought Kerr-Barlow on one final tour, even though he is departing at its end.

But this is New Zealand rugby. That hole will be plugged soon enough. Mitchell Drummond has had a week with the Baabaas, and now one with the All Blacks. Brad Weber remains a contender. Same with Auggie Pulu and Bryn Hall. The national coaches just need to see more from them.

“We’re giving other people an opportunity to grow and get an understanding of what All Blacks rugby is about,” adds Hansen. “Northern tours have always been about bringing extra people so we can develop them. It’s a good platform, you’re in a touring environment where things are quite intense for a month, and you get a good look at the young guys.

“One of our big aims for the year was to expose young guys to touring, test match rugby and playing for the All Blacks. By the end of this season we would have done that in bulk.”

Have a look at this depth chart, and judge for yourself where Hansen’s All Blacks stand less than two years from the World Cup.

Sure, they’ve had a wobble or two, but simply no one – England included – can match them for depth.

ALL BLACKS’ DEPTH CHART

Fullback: Ben Smith, Jordie Barrett, Damian McKenzie, David Havili.

Wings: Rieko Ioane, Israel Dagg, Nehe Milner-Skudder, Waisake Naholo, Seta Tamanivalu, Matt Duffie, Julian Savea.

Midfield: Sonny Bill Williams, Ryan Crotty, Anton Liennert-Brown, Ngani Laumape, Jack Goodhue, Charlie Ngatai.

First fives: Beauden Barrett, Lima Sopoaga, Richie Mo’unga, Damian McKenzie.

Halfback: Aaron Smith, TJ Perenara.

Loose forwards: Kieran Read, Sam Cane, Liam Squire, Ardie Savea, Matt Todd, Vaea Fifita, Jerome Kaino, Akira Ioane, Luke Whitelock.

Locks: Brodie Retllick, Sam Whhitelock, Luke Romano, Scott Barrett, Patrick Tuipulotu, Dominic Bird.

Props: Owen Franks, Joe Moody, Nepo Laulala, Kane Hames, Wyatt Crockett, Ofa Tu’ungafasi, Tim Perry, Jeffery Toomaga-Allen, Atu Moli.

Hookers: Dane Coles, Codie Taylor, Nathan Harris, Asafo Aumua.

source Sunday Star Times

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Looks a great read -Watched all the games regarding the Lions 2017 tour to NZ

In the Line of Fire: The Inside Story from the Lions Head Coach

Looks a top read -just bought it from Amazon

Personal reflections on Day 1 of the build up to Saturday 7th October -Springboks vs All Blacks

What a remarkable day on two sides of the Peninsula with the Springboks and All Blacks in town

-In the centre of town at 12h30 sharp the ever efficient Bok media officer rolled in the Bok coach old Alistair Coetzee .He looked pensive and proceeded to discuss how he thought the Boks did well on Saturday in their 27 all draw .

His body language spoke of a man under pressure and even the attempted odd piece of humour seemed to fall flat .

The Cape media are well known for asking the odd probing question with one member of the media gang asking is the Bok Coach a dead man walking? and what did he make of one of his team members outbursts on twitter .

I have never engaged with Brendan Venter ( he seems a nice enough bloke ) but being media savy I am not so sure.

His tweets got taken out of context and surely he could have put out a lovely comprehensive media release regarding the pros and cons of the Boks development instead of trying to debate the drawn match in 140 characters .

The meet and greet latter that afternoon at the Cape Town stadium also only had a few 100 people ,which is a shame ,because the players are decent men ,under a huge amount of scrutiny and the coach is not exactly putting out the most coherent or positive message .

I got told by one of my media colleagues from Durban the Boks will lose on Saturday ,It is only the margin that is in question and one can’t argue with that statement .

The Boks dont seem to have blooded enough players and given the bench players a good enough run and players who where in the frame like Curwin Bosch earlier in the season are now sitting twiddling their thumbs while other players namely Pollard come back into the team on reputation only having been out injured for a while.

BUT …Across town in the leafy suburb of Newlands the All Blacks rode into town like rock stars ( a 5 star hotel no less ) ..it helps when you have real currency at your disposal and they proceeded to turn on the charm offensive .

Steve Hansen spoke in glowing terms about the challenge on Saturday and how they love playing the Boks and he also spoke about the thinking of bringing some players over earlier, namely stars Sam Cane ,Ryan Cotty and Sam Whitelock et al, who could be seen sunning themselves on Camps Bay and visiting Mynt cafe over the weekend .

The challenge the coach remarked is to keep the top players fresh for the end of year tour of the Northern Hemisphere .Sam Cane was then rolled out to the media and again spoke of the challenge that lies ahead on Saturday .The pressure will surely rise during the week ,but I have no doubt the All Blacks want to build on the 57 nil demolition they did in Albany over the Boks two weeks ago

The stakes are high as the South African rugby public are an unforgiving lot and they want to see the Boks improve .

The last time the All Blacks played at Newlands was 2008 ,I was still at BMG Records , and now in 2017 some 9 years latter I get to go see the test match with my wife and daughter who is 17 and wonder if the Boks will take it up the nought again . They did in 2008 the score was 19 nil .

Steve Hansen knows what to do to get the rock stars to click .If they put on an 80 min display the score could get ugly.

Lets see what the fox has up his sleeve prior to selecting the team ,but he has all the aces and the joker to play with. Who will deal the first hand, Blacks or Boks.

This is the poster from 2005 signed by Tana Umaga ahead of 1st test on Saturday

The match day 23 for the first Test of the DHL New Zealand Lions Series is listed below (with Test caps in brackets):

This is the poster from 2005 signed by Tana Umaga (my daughter was 5 ) at the time..Casey is now 17 and will be watching on Sat ..helps put the series into perspective the significance that some great players never get to play the Lions -Special thanks to Mike Greenaway for getting pic signed

1. Joe Moody (25)
2. Codie Taylor (16)
3. Owen Franks (91)
4. Brodie Retallick (61)
5. Samuel Whitelock (85)
6. Jerome Kaino (78)
7. Sam Cane (41)
8. Kieran Read (97) – Captain
9. Aaron Smith (59)
10. Beauden Barrett (50)
11. Rieko Ioane (2)
12. Sonny Bill Williams (34)
13. Ryan Crotty (26)
14. Israel Dagg (62)
15. Ben Smith (61)

16. Nathan Harris (5)
17. Wyatt Crockett (59)
18. Charlie Faumuina (47)
19. Scott Barrett (5)
20. Ardie Savea (13)
21. TJ Perenara (30)
22. Aaron Cruden (47)
23. Anton Lienert-Brown (10)

The matchday 23 sees the return of captain Kieran Read with Ardie Savea moving to the bench.

Rieko Ioane has been named on the left wing replacing Julian Savea in what will be Ioane’s first start in his third Test.

It will also be Ioane’s third time facing the Lions in this year’s DHL New Zealand Lions Series. Ryan Crotty returns from injury and has been named at centre, with Anton Lienert-Brown moving to the bench.

All Blacks Head Coach Steve Hansen said: “This was a really tough team to pick because there were a number of players in great form vying for positions. But in the end the three selectors felt this was the best combination to take on the Lions in the first Test.

Hansen added it was great to have Read and Crotty back.

“They’ve both been on target to return for this game all the way through, are both in great shape and, together with the rest of the squad, they’re really excited at what’s ahead of us.

“I’d also like to congratulate Rieko on getting his first start for the All Blacks. His outstanding form throughout the season this year, including against the Lions, has earned him his start on the wing.”

Hansen said there was a massive amount of excitement within the team.

“There’s a real understanding that this is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. The players are well aware of the history of the All Blacks and the Lions and are determined to respect that history with their performances.

“We know this is a very good British and Irish Lions team; probably one of the best to have toured here. It’ll be a battle of contrasting styles which makes it an intriguing Test to prepare for and to be part of. We know the importance of this match and we will bring real energy and intensity. It’ll be a physical Test but, just as importantly, it will be a mental test.

“There will be a unique and electric atmosphere at Eden Park on Saturday night. It’s something we’re really looking forward to and we can’t wait.”

Interesting Facts
* The DHL New Zealand Lions Series is the 12th tour to New Zealand by the Lions. The first game was in 1904. The teams have played 38 Test matches.

The All Blacks have won 29 of those matches.

* The most recent Lions Test was at Eden Park on July 9th 2005 where the All Blacks won 38-15.

* The All Blacks last weekend became the first team to reach 15,000 Test points in the team’s 553rd Test. (15,002). France is second on 13,450 points.

* Beauden Barrett has now scored 321 points in Test matches and is fifth on the all-time All Blacks list. Aaron Cruden is fourth on 322 points. The top three are pretty well-known names: Carter, Mehrtens and Fox.

* Owen Franks will become the ninth most capped All Blacks in his 92nd Test on Saturday, equal to All Blacks great Sean Fitzpatrick.

Brodie Retallick says the All Blacks will be ready for what’s coming in the opening test against the Lions.

Forewarned is forearmed, reckon the All Blacks when it comes to that withering defensive line-speed of Warren Gatland’s British and Irish Lions. As Steve Hansen would say, they might just have more up their sleeves than their arms.

They know it’s coming all right in Saturday’s opening test of the series at Eden Park, and they have seen first-hand the way it can squeeze the life out of such quality opponents as the Crusaders and New Zealand Maori who have both been ground into the turf by Gatland’s full-strength, fast-off-the-mark weekend lineup.

Gatland’s shadow test squad has conceded just one try in 160 minutes of rugby on this tour, and pummelled both the Crusaders (12-3) and Maori (32-10) in the process. They may be struggling to find their attacking flow, but you simply cannot fault the manner in which they have defended through two impressive victories.

Clips from those two games will have been loaded en masse on to the All Blacks’ devices and will be compulsory viewing all week as they build up for the always pivotal opening encounter of this delicious three-test series that only rolls round every dozen years.

The brains trust of Hansen, Ian Foster and Wayne Smith will also be game-planning like mad, and the players expect to see so much of the defensive tactic on the training field all week, that by the time the test rolls round, receiving ball and defender all but simultaneously will be second nature.

That all said, two of the All Blacks’ big boppers admitted it’s a tactic the Lions use extremely well and is just different enough to anything else out there to be a shock to the system of the ill or under-prepared.

“They brought a real intensity, and we saw probably how they will play,” said Brodie Retallick of the Maori game. “It’s all about us this week and what we’re going to do to overcome their line-speed and attack.”

But the 26-year-old rated by many as the world’s best lock conceded there was enough newness to the Lions’ methods to warrant respect. “We don’t see it as intense as the Lions do it,” he said of a ‘D’ line with an Olympic sprinter’s speed out of the blocks.

“Some New Zealand Super Rugby sides are using it, and the Hurricanes do it really well. But it’s not something you face week in, week out. You’ll play Australian or South African team and if numbers are down they’ll hold and push instead of just flying up like the Lions do.

“I guess it’s a wee bit of perceived pressure because you’ve got someone coming fast at you. We will train that this week and get used to it, but it is slightly different to what we’re used to.”

That said, Retallick wasn’t exactly wiping beads of sweat off his brow when the subject came up at Monday’s media conference, on the back of a morning gym session and busy day of meetings to set the agenda for the week.

“We know it’s going to come, so acknowledging it’s going to happen is a starting point. And we’ve got certain skills or aspects we want to adapt to beat it. We’ll train it this week and put a plan in place where hopefully we can get outside it or in behind it.”

Veteran loose forward Jerome Kaino, who confirmed his readiness with a solid 57 minutes in Friday’s romp over Samoa, said it was a part of the Lions’ game that had to be prepared for.

“Whatever any team does, there’s always an opportunity [to find space elsewhere], but also it’s how you deal with their pressure,” said the 78-test No 6. “From what we’ve seen it’s been a strength of theirs and puts teams under a lot of pressure and makes them do things they don’t usually do.

“We’ll address that this week and train areas where we can attack it. But it’s awesome how they defend. The Lions just don’t miss their tackles when they get up there.”

The other perceived strength of the visitors is in that pack which is expected to be retained en masse from the Maori game. The All Blacks understand that if they can match, or even shade, them in the arm-wrestle, they’ll be a long way down the track to a 1-0 series lead.

“You always want to measure yourself against the best, and the way northern hemisphere teams have been playing the last couple of years in the forwards, they’ve set the standards. I want to measure myself against those guys,” said Kaino, a likely starter in the loose trio alongside skipper Kieran Read and openside Sam Cane.

Added Retallick: “We’ve got huge respect for what the Lions are and what they’re bringing. Their set piece is a real asset – their scrum and lineout maul. It’s going to be a battle there. They’ve got some big, ball-carrying loose forwards and we’re going to have to get in front of them and make tackles.”

Forewarned, forearmed and certainly fervent, this is a test that can’t come soon enough for these All Blacks.

source : Stuff

One year today the Rugby World Cup kicks off in England . How are the coaches feeling ?

Exactly one year today the Rugby World Cup kicks off in England and wonders how well the coaches of the leading teams are sleeping as the countdown starts to the big September 18 kick-off in London.

Some are sleeping better than others, make no mistake, and All Blacks coach Steve Hansen is no doubt one of them, and not just because his team are just about unbeatable, give or take a draw with the Wallabies earlier this year and their last loss being against the Boks in Port Elizabeth way back in 2011.

The thing with Hansen is that besides having the reassurance that his team annually sets the standards, each season he has full control of his players and a complete evaluation of their form.

That is because only Super Rugby players in New Zealand are eligible to play for the All Blacks. If you are a Kiwi and you go overseas to earn the big bucks, you surrender any chance you might have had to play for the black jersey. It does not matter whether you are Richie McCaw or Dan Carter. You play in New Zealand or your surrender your All Blacks status.

You can come back, of course, and re-earn your right to the jersey with a season of Super Rugby, but while you are abroad your international career is on hold or over.

It used to be that way in South Arica but a decade or so ago the South African Rugby Union decided that they would pre-empt their rivals and would be the first of the major unions to select overseas-based players, the thinking being that rugby must ultimately follow the oldest professional sport in the world, soccer, and that eventually the Springboks would be a team picked from clubs all over the world.

It makes sense, and maybe Saru has got it right and eventually professionalism in rugby will go the way of soccer. Currently, 75 percent of the Argentina team is based in France.

The point is that while money will eventually guide the world’s best players to the clubs with the biggest cheques books, even leading New Zealand players, the fact is that the “amateur” Kiwis are currently keeping hold of their best players in New Zealand with the lure of the Silver Fern.

Steve Hansen has the easiest selection job in the world. He just watches Super Rugby every weekend and, as far as his players are concerned, he is comparing apples with apples. It is a piece of cake, or apple pie if you like.

So let’s ask Heyneke Meyer the rhetorical question of how easy it is for him to pick a Springbok team for the June internationals and the Rugby Championship, and even the end of year tour, when his leading contenders have been playing all over the world.

He is comparing apples with pears and bananas. Obviously he sees how the Super Rugby players are going but can he honestly pick players based in Japan on form rather than reputation?

Fourie du Preez, JP Pietersen, Jaque Fouries, Andries Bekker (what happened to him? why can the other “Japs” be picked but not him?) are not the same players they were when they join the Boks after a holiday camp eating sushi in Tokyo. South African players go to Japan because they earn big bucks and have a fat jol. They come back unfit and over-weight.

Frans Steyn is over there now. He came back from his stint in France looking like the Michelin Man and took ages to get match fit for Super Rugby standards, and when he did. He went from playing terribly to be being outstanding . Will he be a sumo wrestler when he comes back next year?

It was Jake White who three years ago sounded a warning to South African rugby. He said “Select overseas players at your peril, you are making a rod for your own back. You send the wrong message to the players, and mark my word, the average age of our players going overseas will drop year by year because they know the back door to the Boks is always open, while the Springbok coach will have no yardstick to compare players because they will be in different competitions all over the world and in different stage of fitness.”

In New Zealand rugby, their idea of a crisis is a losing sequence of one-game in a row

In New Zealand rugby, their idea of a crisis is a losing sequence of one-game in a row. Heck even a draw against Australia a fortnight ago got them into a tizz, prompting coach Steve Hansen to call for a week of serious introspection “from myself down to the waterboy.”

The country was seriously miffed and the fact that the 12-12 draw with the Wallabies in Sydney denied this All Blacks team the chance to break the world record of 17 consecutive wins had a lot to do with it.

The result was 50 points put past the Aussies in the return game in Auckland at the weekend in a performance that was quite possibly the best of the professional era. It really was that good. The Wallabies should have known better – don’t make the All Blacks angry!

Later on that day, we watched the Springboks labour to a narrow win over the Pumas in Argentina, in the process suffering the ignominy of being repeatedly shoved off their ball in the set scrums. Some big Springbok reputations took a knock and it will be interesting to see how the tight forwards respond against the Wallabies in Perth next week.

But back to the All Blacks and their ruthlessly efficient performance. They played the game at a tempo rarely seen and with an intensity that no other team in world rugby can match. The Wallabies did not play that badly, but they simply could not live with the raw power and aggression of the super-charged Kiwis.

The Boks’ underwhelming performances against Argentina – in the wet of Pretoria and the stifling heat of Salsa – left South Africans depressed about our chances of beating the All Blacks this year, in Wellington and then at Ellis Park in the final match of the Championship.

The funny thing is that it is not impossible to beat the All Blacks if you play the right game. It IS impossible to beat the All Blacks if you try and match their game. They are too strong and too fit. We saw that last year when the Boks took on the All Blacks at their own game in that memorable match at Ellis Park. The Boks were trying to score four tries to earn a bonus-point win and secure the Championship, and they looked the part for three-quarters of the game before running out of steam and the Kiwis ran in three tries without reply in the final quarter.

Heyneke Meyer was the first one to acknowledge that the Boks were not fit enough that day. At the end of last year’s tour to the northern hemisphere he said the same thing again – South African rugby lags behind New Zealand rugby when it comes to conditioning. Meyer called for a national conditioning programme to be run by his fitness team. He knew it would never happen because our Super Rugby franchises own the players and follow their own programmes as well as play leading players into the ground out of self interest. The Bok coach plays second fiddle.

The New Zealand Rugby Union owns their players, not the franchises and Hansen and his management team call the shots, ensuring players are fit through a national programme and that senior players are rested.

In 2009, the Springboks beat the All Blacks three times, including a win in Hamilton, the last time the All Blacks lost a Test on home soil. The Boks did it with a highly effective kick-and-chase game. They sucked the All Blacks into trench warfare and avoided high-paced, attacking rugby.

The Boks have to cut their suit according to their cloth. It might not be as entertaining as the way the All Blacks play, but it is the only way the Boks can beat them.

By Mike Greenaway

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