Ahead of the Lions series this summer, I wrote an article asking some questions of All Blacks coach Steve Hansen in the lead up to the tour.
Let’s see if there have been any answers to these questions as we now look ahead to the Rugby Championship.
5. Who Is The Most Effective Openside Flanker? (Not Answered)
Sam Cane started all three Test matches. Despite Sean O’Brien outplaying him during the series Cane did show some glimpses of good physicality and work rate. Going into the Rugby Championship he will be the frontrunner as the All Blacks’ number 7.
There is an argument that Ardie Savea is more effective due to what he offers with his athleticism and speed around the field. Hansen still believes he is a better fit as an impact loose forward coming off the bench, however. Matt Todd will need a strong finish to the Super Rugby season to make it back into the selection mix.
4. Who Are The First Choice Wingers? (Not Answered)
Four different wingers took to the field during the series due to injury and illness. Dagg started on the right in two Tests and played the second Test at fullback. Rieko Ioane’s two tries in the first Test contrasted the second match where he had limited opportunities. Illness ruled Ioane out of the decider. Waisake Naholo and Julian Savea featured in the second and third Test respectively. Both at times made some good runs but also made basic errors. This gives Steve Hansen selection headaches.
Savea has a phenomenal try-scoring record (46 from 54 Tests) and in the past has answered critics when down on form with strong performances. Dagg will start on the right wing with Ioane and Savea battling it out for the left wing spot. Nehe Milner-Skudder is on the comeback trail and needs to rediscover his 2015 form to regain selection.
3. Who Is The Replacement Second Row Player? (Answered)
Scott Barrett is continuing the Barrett presence in the All Blacks squad. After a successful 2016 end-of-year tour and being named on the bench for all three Tests show he is definitely the most suitable lock forward to cover the Brodie Retalick-Sam Whitelock combination.
His physicality, ball skills and reliability at set-pieces are his strengths. Scott Barrett has moved ahead of his Crusaders teammate Luke Romano as the All Blacks’ third choice second rower.
2. Aaron Smith Or TJ Perenara? (Answered)
Leading up to the Lions series many people were picking TJ Perenara to start over Aaron Smith. This was on the back of Perenara’s sublime form for the Hurricanes. Smith started all three matches and at times we saw why he is still regarded as one of the best halfbacks in world rugby.
When the All Blacks had good ball, we saw the zippy nature that Smith has become know for. The Hurricanes man needs to avoid situations such as his reaction after Conor Murray’s try in Wellington. This had an adverse effect on his game. He is a skilful player, who offers great impact for the All Blacks.
1. Which Players Will Need Sabbaticals After The Lions Series? (Not Answered)
Ben Smith will have a well-deserved rest after the two Bledisloe Cup matches in August. He will not be playing the remainder of the Rugby Championship or going on the end-of-year tour. After undergoing wrist surgery and a broken thumb, Kieran Read may bypass a sabbatical. The captain made a strong comeback in the first Test of the Lions series.
The impressive locking duo of Brodie Retallick/Sam Whitelock needs to be managed carefully. Both play the game with a blend of physicality, skill and nous. Sabbaticals for these two would be beneficial, but ideally not at the same time.
Owen Franks should, however, consider a sabbatical. A mainstay in the All Blacks’ pack since 2009, a break away from the sport will allow him to show the same form he showed during the Lions series at the next World Cup.
There were some answers for the Steve Hansen after the Lions series and more answers will follow after the Rugby Championship around selections and player management moving forward.
Carlin Crossan, Pundit Arena