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Steve Hansen pledges to name strongest team possible for Bledisloe Cup opener as All Blacks improvement demanded

Steve Hansen plans to hit hard and hit early in the All Blacks’ Bledisloe Cup defence, pledging to name his strongest team to face the Wallabies in Perth.

Hansen repeated his mantra that the annual trans-Tasman prize is second only to the World Cup on his priority list before the team flew out of Auckland on Saturday.

He wants better than the scratchy 20-16 win over Argentina and the 16-16 draw with South Africa last month, having fielded two very different teams.

The veteran coach expects the rust to be scraped off and will be unhappy if there’s no improvement in the far west on Saturday and then when the teams meet again in Auckland seven days later.

“We know we always improve, the more games we have. How much? We’ll have to wait and see,” he said.

“We’ll look to start building various combinations that we want to look at and probably put the strongest-looking side that we can together over the next couple of weeks.

“The message to the team is keep believing in what we’re doing and be patient.”

Hansen is set to field his twin playmaker set-up of Richie Mo’unga at five-eighth and Beauden Barrett at fullback – a tactic which earned a pass mark against the Springboks.

All Blacks Beauden Barrett and Richie Mo’unga

It may also be the test in which skipper Kieran Read is shifted from No.8 to blindside flanker, making room for the dynamic Ardie Savea.

The All Blacks’ pattern in recent years has been to stutter in the early-season June internationals before finding their rhythm mid-campaign, including several heavy defeats of the Wallabies. Fatigue has then weighed heavily on their season-ending northern hemisphere tours.

That trend hasn’t held true in World Cup years, where condensed build-ups and experimentation may have contributed to one-off losses to Australia in 2007, 2011 and 2015.

“We’ve been getting answers all the way along so hopefully we get a lot more answers from everybody. We expect to see things improve and combinations start to click,” Hansen said.

Hansen said recalled lock Scott Barrett is recovering well from a broken finger suffered late in the Crusaders’ Super Rugby campaign and could be a straight starting replacement for the injured Brodie Retallick.

One-test Flanker Luke Jacobson and uncapped five-eighth Josh Ioane won’t travel as both have been diagnosed with concussion symptoms. Ioane was only going to be in Perth as an observer as he missed selection in the 34-man squad.

Hansen confirmed flanker Vaea Fifita would travel even though he was mourning the death this week of his younger brother.

AAP

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Steve Hansen pledges to name strongest team possible for Bledisloe Cup opener as All Blacks improvement demanded