Steve Hansen blooded 76 new All Blacks during his eight years in charge.
Some have gone on to forge decorated international careers, others had fewer opportunities to showcase their talents on the highest stage.
The Season, Brisbane Boys’ College: A compelling team performance from the First XV in Round 1 eases the injury concerns from the previous week, while the boys are thrust into the industrious rhythm of the school term.
An 87% win-rate between 2012 and 2019 is indicative of an exceptionally talented crop of men that Hansen had at his disposal, and even the bit-part players would be square up well against the best from around the world.
And while a lengthy career with the New Zealand national side would be favourable for many players, it’s often the one-off exceptional performances that stand out in many people’s minds.
Those performances are even more memorable when they occur on a player’s debut.
Which of the men that Steve Hansen brought into the fold stood out the most from their first Test caps?
v Ireland (2012)
‘The Bus’ had plenty of raps on him before he arrived on the international scene.
In the 2010 Junior World Championship, Savea topped the try-scoring charts with eight to his name and was subsequently named the Junior Player of the Year.
His Super Rugby debut for the Hurricanes came a year later but it was until 2012, after Hosea Gear departed, that Savea really showed his abilities, scoring nine tries.
Hansen’s first-ever All Blacks squad included several debutants – Savea among them – and the sizeable left-wing wasted no time announcing his finishing capabilities to the world.
Savea scored three tries and ran for 127-metres in New Zealand’s 42-10 thrashing of the touring Irish despite being on the field for just three-quarters of the match.
Despite not being known for his defensive prowess, he also put a monster hit on Rob Kearney. While positioning may not be Savea’s strength, he’ll certainly knock you down a peg if you run straight into him.
Savea, who now plays for Toulon in France, amassed 46 tries in 54 appearances for the All Blacks – arguably the most impressive strike rate of any wing on the international stage.
v Australia (2013)
Tom Taylor, as a Canterbury first five, was always destined to wear the silver fern.
In his stint with the world champion New Zealand Under 20 side in 2009, Taylor played second fiddle to Aaron Cruden. This was also a trend in the adult squad, with Taylor earning selection in the All Blacks in part due to injuries to Cruden, Beauden Barrett and Dan Carter.
Taylor’s debut in New Zealand’s second Bledisloe Cup match with Australia in 2013. The Crusader was a late addition to the squad (alongside Colin Slade) after the All Blacks’ other 10s were all struck down with injury.
There’s arguably no tougher position to play as a rookie than first five, especially when you’ve had limited time within a team environment, but Taylor put on probably the most composed display we’d seen from an All Blacks pivot on debut since Luke McAlister’s debut during the 2005 British and Irish Lions Tour.
Taylor may not have exactly set the world alight, but he challenged the line, organised the backline well and kicked his goals – everything you’d want from a first five playing his 50th Test, but not necessarily what you’d expect from a debutant.
Taylor kicked 14 points, helping New Zealand to a 27-16 win in Wellington.
He mustered just 38 more minutes of action for the All Blacks over his international career, thanks to the queue of experienced, talented operators ahead of him. Taylor relocated to France after the 2015 World Cup and now represents Pau.
v South Africa (2015)
Like Taylor two years prior, Lima Sopoaga was thrust into the cauldron for his Test debut, being handed the reins to start against the Springboks in Johannesburg.
Unlike Taylor, however, Sopoaga wasn’t the last man standing – he forced his way into the team on the back of an outstanding Super Rugby campaign for the Highlanders.
Entering the game, South Africa had lost their two previous fixtures and were intent on preventing a third loss on the trot – something they’d not experienced since the 2011 season.
Still, Steve Hansen and his fellow selectors needed to test whether Sopoaga was someone they could call upon for the upcoming World Cup if their first three choices went down injured – and the Wellington-born pivot didn’t let them down.
Sopoaga slotted 5 of his 7 shots at goal, including a crucial, long-range conversion in the 74th minute to push NZ four points clear of the home side and outside the range of a penalty or drop goal.
It was hard to find fault with Sopoaga’s performance after the match but the Highlander unluckily missed out on selection in the World Cup squad.
Sopoaga headed overseas in 2018 and now represents the Wasps in England.
v Australia (2016)
Anton Lienert-Brown made his Super Rugby debut at just 18 years of age so it’s no surprise that he eventually made the step up to the national side.
His elevation came on the back of injuries to several other players – which is something of a theme in this list.
Lienert-Brown made his debut against Australia after Sonny Bill Williams was injured playing sevens and Ryan Crotty was invalided due to concussion. The Christchurch Boys’ High student started in an inexperienced midfield alongside Malakai Fekitoa – who had just 16 appearances to his name at the time.
Lienert-Brown, who was 21 when he first got the call-up, looked at home in the black jersey and made an instant impact, setting up a try for Israel Dagg with his first touch.
Now 24 years old, Lienert-Brown is the sole player on this list to have made it to the 2019 World Cup where he started in New Zealand’s quarter- and semi-final matches.
v France (2018)
It’s fair to say that most people don’t expect too much from props in their debut matches – especially when they’re named on the bench and have only really burst onto the professional scene earlier that year.
Karl Tu’inukuafe bucked all expectations and stood out for the All Blacks when he entered the fray against France and helped dominated the blue scrum.
Tu’inukuafe started the year without a Super Rugby contract but was called into the Chiefs after they had some injury issues of their own. Big Karl’s form catapulted him into contention for the national side and Tim Perry’s subsequent issues saw Tu’inukuafe named to make his debut off the bench.
The 135kg prop came onto the field in the 46th minute and instantly helped the NZ scrum earn a penalty off their French counterparts.
Come the end of the match, Tu’inukuafe could hold his head high having bested some considerably more experienced front-rowers than he.
The big man remains in New Zealand despite missing out on last year’s World Cup and looked impressive for the Blues in the early stages of this year’s Super Rugby season.
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