“When New Zealand face Japan in Tokyo on Saturday, the All Blacks will be thousands of miles away,” wrote Gerard Meagher in The Guardian.
“Dress it up any way you like but by announcing a squad to face the Brave Blossoms featuring eight rookies at almost the precise moment 23 frontline players were boarding a flight to London, Steve Hansen is handing out confetti caps.”
The Guardian also took a shot at Hansen’s defence after he cited the added pressures of playing “14 or 15 tests a year” with influencing his selection of a larger squad.
“Valid points but then add in the fact the All Blacks requested to extend their stay in Japan and arranged Saturday’s money-spinning fixture is tantamount to having your cake and eating it,” Meagher wrote. “Granted Hansen’s first-choice XV could pull Japan apart but if this match is to warrant test status it was incumbent on the head coach to sprinkle at least a few star names among his selection.
“Alas, second-string sides playing test matches is a trend we are only going to see more of, while Hansen’s decision to do so now also demonstrates an awareness of the challenges around the corner for a side that wobbled towards the end of the Rugby Championship.”
Hansen called the notion that he was giving caps away ‘nonsense’.
“Over the last few years we’ve looked at ways of trying to skin the cat and last year we split the squad to Argentina and South Africa and this year the opportunity to play the Bledisloe up here was too good to turn down because of the opportunity to experiment and get a feel for Japan,” Hansen said.
“The idea of actually having two weeks here was better than having one. Hence was asked to play Japan and once we decided that then it was a matter of saying righto, how is that going to affect us against England, Ireland and Italy, and we chose to say right, we’d like to bring some extra players.”
In other news:
Sign up to our mailing list for a weekly digest from the wide world of rugby.Sign Up Now