The first test of the year is already the last chance saloon for some of All Black Rugby World Cup contenders.
All Blacks coach Steve Hansen said it could already be D-day for some players.
The absence of Crusaders, a couple of key injuries and a semi-trial attitude have thrust a number of players into the immediate limelight.
Loosehead prop Karl Tu’inukuafe is the surprise omission in an under-strength side to face Argentina on Sunday morning.
Hansen reiterated that the Rugby Championship was the third priority, behind the World Cup and Bledisloe Cup.
The All Blacks have just five pre-World Cup tests, including two Bledisloe encounters and a clash against Tonga in Hamilton.
“It could be,” Hansen replied when asked if it was already a final opportunity for some players.
“Apart from what we are doing on Saturday, there are players here who are the future, no doubt about it.
“Some with 10 or 15 caps might not be given another opportunity (before the World Cup) and some with none may well do.
“Whilst you’ve got to look at the here and now, you’ve got to take the future into consideration.
“That opportunity has been afforded to us because we haven’t selected Crusaders – we are looking to the World Cup but beyond that as well.”
This is how Hansen ran the rule over some of his selections.
Jacobson has been picked ahead of Dalton Papalii for the bench loose forward spot.
“We got to see Dalton day in and day out last year when he toured with us … he got to see what you need to do to be an All Black.
“Luke has been given the opportunity to show us what he is about. We’ll see if he can cope with the week and go out and play.”
Sevu Reece/Braydon Ennor
“We’re pretty comfortable with George’s ability; he’s been around as a player of some standard with the Crusaders for a while. He had a good week with us in Japan and played really well (after coming on at halftime in Tokyo last year).
“We didn’t know too much about Sevu as a rugby player but as the season has gone on he’s just got better and better as a player and a person.
“We need to find if Sevu is up to the next level, and find out about Braydon who plays midfield and wing. ”
Hansen said Reece favoured the right wing, whereas Jordie Barrett was very versatile and “happy to play on the left”.
Starting as blindside loose forward.
“We want him to carry on where he left off in Italy. He was physical, good in the set pieces, carried the ball well, cleaned out well, played the No 6 role we are looking for.
“It is one thing to be a talented athlete, another to be talented with the work ethic. He showed that in the Italy game and we’d like to see it again.”
Aaron Smith/Brad Weber
Selected ahead of TJ Perenara.
Hansen said Perenara had played a bit more rugby than Smith of late. There was no temptation to have Perenara on the bench as cover for No 10, even though Josh Ioane is on debut.
“We’ve got a lot of confidence in Josh – you’ve got to believe in him. There’s no point in picking someone as a backup for a backup for a backup,” said Hansen.
“It was a chance to give TJ a breather and find out more about Brad.
“We’ve got all the confidence in Brad. He has a lot more experience than four years ago, is more comfortable in his own skin.
“He has shown leadership qualities at the Chiefs, which allows him to be pretty comfortable in the environment. We expect him to play a big part in the game.”
“We’ve put a lot of pressure on our props to get more mobile and we see them playing a big part in making a difference in our game.
“He can play both sides – he is very comfortable at tighthead and getting more comfortable at loosehead.”
Hansen said he had been behind the eight-ball because of a serious leg injury.
“This is a big opportunity for him – he’s well aware of that,” said Hansen.
“He’s another one of those props who is athletic, a good physical beast who has got ability and explosive powers.
“We want to see that in the test arena and can only give him a tick for the hard work he has been doing.”
Starting at second five-eighths.
“Like to see a continuation of the improvements… we asked him to go away and be more dominant with his voice, particularly in aiding the No 10 in his decision making,” Hansen said.
“He’s been doing that this week and it will be interesting to see how well he does it on the park under game pressure.
“He’s been adding skills to his game and got a nice wee kicking game going at the moment.
“He is completely driven – you’ve got to give Ngani a 10 out of 10 for how hard he is trying. People like that will eventually get rewarded.”
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