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Five pre-World Cup Tests crucial for players

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Lynn McConnell     21 May 2019     Getty Images

Speaking at the Foundation Day camp at Papakura for the North Island All Blacks on Monday, Hansen said strategies had been put in place to bring the props up to the desired level.
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Hansen felt there might have been more focus on the gym and players' strength rather than their mobility. That might involve getting a couple of kilos off and getting a little more agile, he said.

Nepo Laulala was starting to look better, Joe Moody was a good, mobile and athletic prop, Angus Ta'avao didn't have that problem, Atu Moli would take a little longer because he had come back from a long injury but was a good athlete and Ofa Tuungafasi had played a great 80 minutes on Saturday against the Chiefs in probably his best game for the Blues in a long time.

"So we're moving in the right direction," he said.

Looking at the lack of match play for last season's third halfback in the squad Te Toiroa Tahuriorangi from the Chiefs said the main reason for that was Brad Weber was playing so well.

"He's leading well and Te Toiroa has come back from his off season probably not where he should have been and Brad has taken every opportunity he has got. So, does it concern me?
"Yeah, I would like him to get more minutes but Brad's playing really well too so that excites me. It's a double-edged sword," he said.

Looking at the prospect of a third first five-eighths for the World Cup squad, Hansen said he was wary of putting pressure on young players.

"Every first five outside of Richie [Mo'unga] and Beaudy [Barrett] will be thinking, 'maybe I've got a chance here' and they don't need to hear me saying, 'So-and-so has, or so-and-so'. Just let them go and play and we'll make a decision based on what we see and what we feel is right for the team," he said.

There was little doubt the selectors had significant choices available to them in midfield. And while he understood the calls from some that Sonny Bill Williams could be running out of time he asked whether that was really the case?

"He's already proved himself. He's played 50 Tests. That's a lot of Test matches so that's a lot of proving.

"What we just need to see is him getting back on the track and then we've got to ask ourselves the question: 'Righto is his fitness good enough for him to be selected?'

"We play five Test matches before we have to name a World Cup team so does he deserve an opportunity to show us whether he's still good enough? Of course he does, because he's played 50 Test matches and all those boys in the midfield who have played for us will, at some stage, have to get an opportunity to show us that they're good enough.

"Personally, I think they all are but we can only pick four, or three depending on what else we do with the rest of the squad," Hansen said.