Highlanders first-five Josh Ioane was the only uncapped All Black in the match-day squad not to get a run against the Pumas in Buenos Aires because the coaches were wary about harming his development in the case of a defeat and subsequent public fallout.
Had Ioane, 24, run on to Estadio Jose Amalfitani in the final stages of the All Blacks‘ 20-16 victory the pressure on him would have been immense. His side had failed to score in the second half and faced an Argentine side enjoying all the momentum, territory and possession. In the end the visitors were perhaps fortunate to hold on.
So while the uncapped Luke Jacobson, Atu Moli and Braydon Ennor were used as second-half replacements (debutant wing Sevu Reece started), Ioane was left kicking his heels on the reserves bench but progressed regardless, according to coach Steve Hansen.
“He’s getting [an opportunity],” Hansen said after the All Blacks arrived in Wellington for the test against the Springboks on Saturday. “He’s here and people forget that – they think you have to play to get an opportunity. He’s learning a lot and we’ll put him out there when we think he’s ready to rock and roll.
“It wouldn’t have been fair to put him out – we lose the test match and everyone starts pointing fingers at a young kid because he’s steering the ship. We didn’t want that to happen so we didn’t put him on. When the time comes I’m sure from what we’ve seen last week and what we’ll see this week, eventually he’ll get a game.”
That is unlikely to be this Saturday, however, because Crusader Richie Mo’unga will come into contention for the No 10 jersey alongside Beauden Barrett, who was one of the All Blacks’ more impressive performers in a rusty collective effort last weekend.
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Barrett varied the All Black attack well, defended well, and, just as importantly in this World Cup year, was successful with all four attempts at goal.
After this weekend Hansen will trim his squad of 39 to 34 for the Bledisloe Cup series – the All Blacks play the Wallabies in Perth on August 10 and Auckland a week later – and Ioane is unlikely to make the cut for that either.
The selectors will need to be ruthless in their decision-making, with a hooker, at least one prop and perhaps two loose forwards cut, plus potentially another player as lock Scott Barrett, currently out with a broken hand, could be back in the frame.
“There’s a lot of water to go under the bridge before we name the next squad, which is in seven days,” Hansen said. “Things will become a lot clearer. Most of them (newcomers) have done themselves no harm at all.”
Hansen was not surprisingly wary about revealing too many of his plans ahead of the test against the Boks, the old enemy who pushed them extremely hard last year.
South Africa won the corresponding test 36-34 in Wellington last year before the All Blacks won another dramatic test in the return fixture in Johannesburg thanks to a try in the final minutes by Ardie Savea which was nervelessly converted by Mo’unga for a 32-30 success.
“We don’t name the team until Thursday and there’s no point in telling [coach] Rassie [Erasmus] what our team is, but he’s not stupid either, is he? He brought a group over [early], and you’d imagine most of them will play and we left a group at home and you’d imagine most of them will play too, but we’ll confirm that on Thursday.”
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