Test selection reflects All Blacks' season

Getty Images

Lynn McConnell     24 Nov 2017     Getty Images

Only six players who started the All Blacks' Test season against Samoa in June will take the field. Hooker Codie Taylor, lock Sam Whitelock, flanker Sam Cane, halfback Aaron Smith, first five-eighths Beauden Barrett and second five-eighths Sonny Bill Williams have been like the last men standing.


While captain Kieran Read was recovering from injury against Samoa before playing the first Test against the British & Irish Lions, he has been forced out of finishing the season in Cardiff after suffering a back injury associated with his hip flexor problem of recent weeks.

Sam Whitelock will captain the side while his brother Luke will replace Read at No.8.

There was better news on wing Rieko Ioane who was now fit to play. He was thought to have suffered a rotator cuff injury and to require surgery. But a scan during the week showed no damage and he had improved to the point where he was able to be considered for selection.

Coach Steve Hansen said they had not given Beauden Barrett the captaincy because while he had led the side against the Barbarians and enjoyed it, a Test match was a different situation and they had Whitelock and Sam Cane available and they had both captained their sides during Super Rugby.

Barrett had a significant role to play at first five-eighths and driver of the team and preferred not to have the captaincy as well.

Whitelock had been a natural leader in the group for some time and the consideration for giving him the captaincy ahead of Cane was that barring injury he was likely to play the whole game while Cane was likely to be substituted for Matt Todd at some stage, Hansen said.

The decision to go with Luke Whitelock at No.8, ahead of playing Liam Squire in that role and using Vaea Fifita on the side of the scrum, came down to Fifita starting to show the signs of wear and tear from his season.

"[I'm] Very happy with how he's played this year, very happy with his development but just think it's time to let someone else…from a mental point of view young guys can get quite frazzled and he's been chucked in the deep end a lot quicker than what we would normally do because of the injuries we've had and he's had a big workload.

"Luke is a pretty calm customer, he's got a high workload so he got the nod."

The decision to start Patrick Tuipulotu at lock and to continue with Scott Barrett off the bench came down to Barrett's familiarity with that role while he also offered cover on the blindside of the scrum if they lost someone injured earlier in the game.

Wales, like the other home nations side who had failed to gain a place in the semi-finals of the last World Cup, had attempted to change their style of play and would field two playmakers in the five-eighths. It was also a result of the success coach Warren Gatland achieved during the Lions tour of New Zealand earlier in the year.

The desire of teams to change in this manner made it exciting for fans who liked seeing the ball being moved around, Hansen said.

The All Blacks were expecting a tough game against Wales, who had also suffered injury blows, in keeping with the tradition between the sides.

Commenting on that, and Wales not having beaten New Zealand since 1953, Hansen said history was like a drought. Every day was another day closer to it raining so every game was another game closer to Wales winning against the All Blacks again.

"We don't talk about winning and losing. We talk about preparing and having a process that allows us to go out and play well, or the best we can, and if that's good enough then you get the reward for it. We all want to win, obviously, but if we get our processes right we'll give ourselves a good chance of doing that," he said.