Rugby: Plenty to ponder for All Blacks

All Black resources will be split for the first two tests on tour, but the intrigue will be how they come to those decisions.

It will not be a case of coach Steve Hansen casting the choices or Hansen and selector Ian Foster taking turns in a version of the schoolyard pickup teams as the fascinated squad watches on.

Odds and evens does not quite work out either, as one group would end up with both the test props, lock, Richie McCaw, the halfback, left wing, centre and fullback.

Research on the opening two rivals, Scotland and Italy, will have been under way for some time.

Neither were too flash in the Six Nations, yet both will present sets of problems which the All Blacks have to counter.

Scotland were unbeaten on their mid-year trip Down Under, and coach Andy Robinson is trying to blend more of that dogged, unforgiving spirit to his squad's particular talents.

Italy also have their methods, which will stress the All Blacks in certain parts of the field.

Knowing those patterns and receiving more details from the All Blacks video staff, Hansen and Foster will work out how best to divvie up their 32-man squad.

As much as their rivals, they will look to stress some players in the All Black group.

All year they have worked through ways of picking their best and dovetailing in talent or inexperience, bringing them all through, as they defeated Ireland in the three test series, claimed the Rugby Championship and retained the Bledisloe Cup before the galling draw in Brisbane.

No doubt the All Blacks' planning will start with McCaw.

They will gauge whether it's best he start against Scotland on Monday so he is primed for a final two test run against Wales and Ireland before his sabbatical.

When that is done they will sort out whether to play vice-captain Daniel Carter in the same test or ask him and leader in waiting, Kieran Read, to begin the alternate international.

Theories will grow until the initial selection is made later this week.

Some rumble has it that Carter might be used as a starting second five-eighths outside Beauden Barrett, in another version of the twin-pivot theory used by the All Blacks in their ragged 2008 win against the Wallabies in Hong Kong.

Perhaps Hansen will give us a real talking point by using Barrett at fullback where his pace, long kicking game and game coverage suggests success.

Picking the backup centre for Conrad Smith brings his namesake Ben and Tamati Ellison into focus. Is Ben Smith the man to be groomed as the comer for the 2015 World Cup, or do the selectors figure injury-free Richard Kahui is the business?

Having nailed their names to the revival of Ali Williams, the selectors have to find the best mix for his experience but lack of recent match play. They also need to figure whether Luke Romano, Brodie Retallick or Sam Whitelock is his best sidekick.

Much has already been written about the prospects of the All Blacks leaving Europe with four wins.

That chance is high, given their season, the depth of talent and their less-than-settled opponents.

As much as Hansen wants that run to continue, his view will be multi-faceted. He knows he has to evolve his talent base, while looking at immediate and future strategies.


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