Stand­ing still is not an op­tion for Hansen’s mighty All Blacks

Suc­ces­sion plan­ning al­ready un­der­way for Lions tour and Ja­pan 2019

Weekend Argus (Saturday Edition) - - SPORT -

THE re­turn of the All Blacks and Rugby World Cup tro­phy to Welling­ton yes­ter­day brought New Zealand’s cap­i­tal to a stand­still. With a slate of re­tire­ments and de­par­tures loom­ing, how­ever, coach Steve Hansen has lit­tle time to en­joy the mo­ment.

By be­com­ing the first team to re­tain the World Cup, and to win it three times, with Satur­day’s 34-17 win over Aus­tralia, the All Blacks have done lit­tle to dampen the im­mense ex­pec­ta­tions placed on the side.

Rugby- mad New Zealand expects suc­cess in each and ev­ery Test match, with the added de­mand the team achieve vic­tory play­ing at­trac­tive, at­tack­ing rugby.

Swamped at home­com­ing events in Auck­land and Christchurch over the past few days, the play­ers ar­rived in Welling­ton for their fi­nal of­fi­cial du­ties.

They were greeted un­der a blue, cloud­less sky by the vis­it­ing Prince Charles and Duchess of Corn­wall as well as thou­sands of fans lin­ing the streets to get one last look at a team many rate as the best ever for the last time.

Sev­eral se­nior play­ers, in­clud­ing fly­half Dan Carter, are head­ing abroad. Tony Wood­cock and Keven Mealamu are among those go­ing into retirement.

At least 627 caps worth of ex­pe­ri­ence walked away yes­ter­day, al­though that fig­ure could bal­loon to 775 if cap­tain Richie McCaw also de­cides to re­tire.

Hansen will con­se­quently be hard at work over New Zealand’s sum­mer months plan­ning the evo­lu­tion of the side.

The 56- year- old, who has com­piled a record of 49 vic­to­ries in 54 Tests since tak­ing charge af­ter the 2011 World Cup, faces a re­build­ing task with the Bri­tish and Ir­ish Lions set to ar­rive on New Zealand’s shores in 2017.

He has said he would prob­a­bly step down af­ter the Lions tour rather than go an­other World Cup cy­cle, and so must en­sure his suc­ces­sor in­her­its a side blessed with a blend of griz­zled ex­pe­ri­ence and youth­ful ex­u­ber­ance through to Ja­pan in 2019.

Much of the im­me­di­ate suc­ces­sion plan­ning has al­ready been im­ple­mented with Kieran Read ex­pected to suc­ceed McCaw as cap­tain, while Sam Cane, al­ready with 31 caps and one match as skip­per, will take the No 7 jer­sey.

Loose for­wards Ardie Savea, Brad Shields and Akira Ioane are now likely to come un­der greater scru­tiny next year as to whether they can step up from Su­per Rugby to Test level, al­though Savea has Sev­ens com­mit­ments ahead of next year’s Rio Olympics.

Aaron Cru­den will re­turn from the knee in­jury that kept him out of World Cup con­tention to vie with Beau­den Bar­rett and one-Test pivot Lima Sopoaga for the No 10 jer­sey, with Un­der-20 World Cup win­ner Otere Black a dark­horse.

Malakai Fek­i­toa and Ryan Crotty look likely to step into a mid­field left va­cant by Ma’a Nonu and Con­rad Smith’s moves off­shore, al­though Ge­orge Moala and Char­lie Ngatai, both of whom played against Samoa in July, are also in the pic­ture.

Lock Pa­trick Tuip­u­lotu will re­turn fol­low­ing hip surgery that kept him out of the World Cup, while Joe Moody and Nepo Laulala will step into the front row for Wood­cock and Ben Franks.

The big­gest is­sue con­tin­ues to be at hooker with Codie Tay­lor and Nathan Har­ris ex­pected to bat­tle as Dane Coles’ un­der­study.

Coles, a sur­prise se­lec­tion in 2012 who took time to grow into the role, ce­mented him­self as the world’s best this year and is per­haps the best ex­am­ple of Hansen’s insight and plan­ning.

The coach will need to dis­cover and de­velop more raw tal­ent to en­sure the All Blacks re­main on top. With Lions on the hori­zon, and a World Cup to de­fend in four years’ time, stand­ing still is not an op­tion. – Reuters


ROYAL RE­CEP­TION: Richie McCaw holds the Webb El­lis tro­phy along­side Prince Charles and the Duchess of Corn­wall dur­ing a wel­come home pa­rade for the world cham­pion All Blacks in Welling­ton yes­ter­day.

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