The selection of George Bridge and Sevu Reece as the All Blacks’ primary wings has brought with it healthy competition within the Kiwi camp, but head coach Steve Hansen has warned the two rookies against complacency.
Speaking ahead of his side’s World Cup clash against Namibia in Tokyo on Sunday, Hansen was pressed about his selection of Bridge and Reece in the No. 11 and 14 jerseys ahead of previous incumbents Rieko Ioane and Ben Smith.
The latter pair had been the preferred outside back options for the All Blacks leading into the World Cup, but a string of underwhelming performances throughout the Rugby Championship forced Hansen to look elsewhere for talent.
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That led to the selection of Bridge and Reece on the wings for the second Bledisloe Cup clash against Australia in August, and the have impressed enough to establish themselves as New Zealand’s premier speedsters.
Bridge, in particular, has caught the eye, scoring six tries in the last three tests he and Reece have started in together, and while Ioane scored against Canada in his first international appearance in two months on Wednesday, he has been demoted to the bench for the Namibia match to make way for the Crusaders flyer on the left wing.
Smith, meanwhile, has been selected at fullback in place of the rested Beauden Barrett, freeing up the right wing position for Reece to reclaim.
“They played against South Africa, they played against Australia but now they’ve got to turn out and play well against Namibia,” Hansen said of his current incumbents, alluding to how their form has made them both the favoured choices on each wing.
However, the 60-year-old coach had a warning about the impressive returns of Ioane and Smith following their prolonged absences from the national side.
“Rieko showed a bit, [Smith] is starting to put a bit of form on the track as well,” he said.
“It’s a contest, it’s one that’s there all the time and we’ll pick the two guys that are playing the best.”
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