Saturday, May 31, 2014

All Blacks coach prepared for fiery England

All Blacks coach Steve Hansen is refusing to follow the media line, both in New Zealand and England, that Stuart Lancaster's team have a herculean task ahead of them in the three-Test series.

Hansen announced his squad for the series on Sunday in Auckland.

It features two new All Blacks, Auckland and Blues lock Patrick Tuipolotu and Auckland and Highlanders centre Malakai Fekitoa, and three returning All Blacks loose forwards Victor Vito and Jerome Kaino and first five-eighths Colin Slade.

"I note that England have been written off but they will have a good side for the first Test. They are the most improved side in world rugby in the last 18 months," Hansen said.

The unbeaten 2013 season was well behind the All Blacks and now it was a case of coming back and reasserting themselves.

"That's a challenge we are looking forward to. Both sides are wanting to perform well ahead of next year's World Cup," he said.

Of his new players Hansen said Fekitoa had been in sensational form and while there were parts of his game that he could improve it was a no-brainer that he should be included in the side.

Tuipolotu was a tighthead lock who got his chance as a result of injury suffered by Luke Romano. But he had the core skills the selectors were seeking and they were looking forward to working with him.

Vito's return had come about because of the increased physicality of his play. He was picking up turnovers, carrying the ball better and making good ground.

"We always knew he was a good athlete," he said.

Kaino's call-up was anticipated given the form he had shown since his return from Japan. He showed he had lost none of his physicality from the moment he resumed with the Blues and as the season progressed he had adapted to the pace of the game and his intensity levels were good.

"I thought last night he was outstanding [in the Blues win over the Hurricanes]," he said.

Steven Luatua missed the squad but Hansen said he knew what the reasons were for that and it was up to him to motivate himself to improve in the same way that Kaino and Vito had done in their careers.

While there was a need to blood new hookers for the side, Hansen said the selectors would not pick players unless they were ready and the two young hookers who have been involved in the side's apprenticeship scheme, Liam Coltman and Nathan Harris, would spend time with the side in their respective regions. If there was an injury to either Keven Mealamu or Dane Coles the selectors would not rule out calling up a player like Crusaders hooker Corey Flynn.

With first five-eighths Aaron Cruden out of rugby for six weeks, and in a well-beaten Chiefs team on Saturday night, Hansen said he played like a player who had had time off, and in a side with some issues at the moment.

However, Cruden had shown in the past that he took time to come back and Saturday's game would have done him some good.

Hansen added that the selectors were already firm in their choice of first five-eighths for Saturday's first Test in Auckland.

No comments: