Home Rugby Three Things Steve Hansen’s Selection Tells Us About New Zealand’s Game Plan

Three Things Steve Hansen’s Selection Tells Us About New Zealand’s Game Plan

The All Blacks will be looking to avenge their defeat in Chicago.

Immediately after the referee blew the final whistle on Ireland’s historic 40-29 win over the All Blacks in Chicago, Steve Hansen’s thoughts must have immediately turned to the much anticipated re-math in Dublin this weekend.

The All Black coach would have been fuming at his side’s indiscipline, and their inability to deal with Ireland’s maul. Ireland may have also surprised New Zealand with their ambition to go wide, who were unprepared for Conor Murray’s aerial bombardment.

However Ireland will be unable to play the same trick twice, as Joe Schmidt’s side cannot rely on Murray’s excellent box kicks, or lineout dominance this weekend. Indeed, New Zealand only have to look at an 11 minute period during the second half, when they scored three tries and looked set to snatch victory from the jaws of defeat.

During those 11 minutes, Ireland couldn’t live with the All Blacks’ tempo or precision. Yet Joe Schmidt’s side managed to stem the tide, find field position and send Robbie Henshaw over for the match winning score.

During the last two meetings between these sides, Ireland have raced into an early lead, leaving the All Blacks with the task of trying to reign them in during the second half. It’s hard to see Hansen allowing something similar to happen on Saturday.

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Instead the All Black coach will be looking for his side to control the game from the early stages, reducing the noise level in the Aviva stadium and forcing Ireland into chasing the game. Hansen’s selection demonstrates this, returning some of his big name players to the starting line-up.

1. New Zealand Will Secure Their Own Line-out Ball

During the first half in Chicago, New Zealand’s lineout misfired, conceding easy possession and field position to Ireland. The All Blacks were of course decimated by injury, and Ireland took full advantage.

However this weekend it will be a different story with Brodie Retallick and Sam Whitelock back in the New Zealand team. Not only that, but Jerome Kaino’s injury has allowed six foot five inch Liam Squire retain his place in the backrow.

Although Kaino has been the All Blacks’ enforcer for some time now, in the context of the lineout, Squire’s height offers options both offensively and defensively. New Zealand also use Kieran Read to great effect at the set piece, and has been their primary jumper this autumn with eight takes.

2. Steve Hansen Has Selected Two Full Backs To Counter Conor Murray’s Box Kicks

Although Aaron Smith rightly received a great deal of criticism for the way he was beaten by Conor Murray in the lead up to Ireland’s thrid try in Chicago, the catalyst for the score came from a high hanging Garryowen. Beauden Barrett misread the flight of the ball, allowing it bounce into Murray’s hand.

Indeed, throughout that game the All Blacks either looked nervous under Ireland’s aerial onslaught or were outfought in the air by the Simon Zebo and Andrew Trimble.

In order to address this weakness, Steve Hansen has selected both Ben Smith and Israel Dagg in his starting XV. The two full-backs played alongside one another against Wales last summer to a great degree of success.

Consequently, Ireland will be unable to garner as much joy from Murray’s box kicks, and will suffer from any misplaced effort by the counter attacking brilliance of Smith and Dagg.

3. Anton Lienert-Brown Will Create Problems For Ireland

Italy v New Zealand - International Match

New Zealand’s lineout was not the only feature of their game to misfire during the first meeting between these sides, their midfield failed to find any natural rhythm for long periods.

While they were not helped by the injury to Ryan Crotty after 25 minutes, apart from his try, George Moala didn’t have the desired impact and Malakai Fekitoa offered no real penetration.

Saturday will see the return of Anton Lienert-Brown to the All Black side, a player whose offloading ability has been compared to Sonny Bill Williams.

Lienert-Brown has earned seven caps since making his debut in the second round of the Rugby Championship against Australia, and finished the tournament as the All Blacks’ leading offloader. As a result, the Chiefs centre is an entirely different prospect for Ireland to deal with in midfield, and one to watch very closely.

If Lienert-Brown can create space for Fekitoa to attack, there is no telling what damage he can inflict.

Alan Drumm, Pundit Arena

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