Smith at fullback as Savea returns


True to form, All Black coach Steve Hansen has resisted personnel change as a means to lift performance in Dunedin, opting to make just one injury-enforced amendment to the starting XV.Israel Dagg, who has been plagued by minor thigh and knee complaints in recent weeks, has been rested to allow Ben Smith to switch to his preferred fullback role and Julian Savea comes in on the left wing.

The temptation to introduce Kieran Read has been resisted on the grounds he needs to spend this week regaining some of the aerobic conditioning he’s lost as a result of his prolonged battle with concussion.

His continued absence means Jerome Kaino will wear No 8 again and win his 50th cap.

Any thoughts of tinkering elsewhere were never seriously contemplated by a selection panel that has consistently taken the view that if players are worth picking once, they are worth picking twice.

Besides, despite the subdued and self-critical response to the Eden Park test, the All Blacks were victorious and not quite as shambolic as some have suggested in recent days.

Without the foundation of slick pass and catch they weren’t able to build the phases, generate momentum and play at a tempo they fancy will trouble England.

“We have worked hard on our skillsets, attitude and the detail in our game, which wasn’t up to All Blacks standard last week,” said Hansen.

“Our mindset this week has been all about improvement, taking ownership and responsibility for our individual roles with the aim of delivering a team performance we can all be proud of.

“We have a strong belief in what we are trying to do and I assume the English do as well. So come 7.35 on Saturday night, it’s game on once again. That’s what test rugby is all about and that’s why we can’t wait for Saturday night to arrive.”

While no one within the All Black camp has made the assumption they will automatically improve that core part of their game in the second test, they haven’t been panicked by their failings.

Confronted with wet and wild conditions on Tuesday, the All Blacks were happy to train outside, knowing that kind of weather sharpens the focus on secure handling and accurate passing. To an extent, they feel if they fix the basics, they will fix their game, hence the lack of interest in making personnel changes.

But fixing the basics is not quite the full remedy. The All Black scrum, after a relatively promising first half, disintegrated in the second.

If England recall Dylan Hartley at hooker, they will most likely become more powerful again and be confident they can win kickable penalties. England’s lineout was also impeccable in Auckland.

They didn’t lose a throw and didn’t look likely too either. Their timing, lifting, jumping and throwing were all perfect and the All Blacks weren’t able to even get a sniff of making a steal.

The back three will also be determined to make amends for their poor kick and chase work last week. Their counter attack game wasn’t seen as they weren’t able to secure possession cleanly from England’s contestable kicks.

All three of Jane, Savea and Smith have likely been peppered with bombs at training this week as the All Blacks are anxious to turn what was a strength for England in Auckland into a weakness.

All Blacks v England, Dunedin, 7.35pm Saturday

Ben Smith, Cory Jane, Conrad Smith, Ma’a Nonu, Julian Savea, Aaron Cruden, Aaron Smith, Jerome Kaino, Richie McCaw (c), Liam Messam, Sam Whitelock, Brodie Retallick,  Owen Franks, Dane Coles, Tony Woodcock. Reserves: Keven Mealamu, Wyatt Crockett, Charlie Faumuina, Patrick Tuipulotu, Victor Vito, TJ Perenara, Beauden Barrett, Malakai Fekitoa.

– Gregor Paul of the Herald on Sunday

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