Saturday, March 17, 2012

No switch for McCaw, as Hansen prepares battle plan  James Mortimer - (18/03/2012)

All Blacks coach Steve Hansen has confirmed that captain Richie McCaw will be played in position, and that any potential replacement for injured blindside Jerome Kaino would likely be a specialist. 

The new All Blacks coach, who will make his ‘debut’ against Ireland in the Steinlager Series later this year, has been encouraged by the form of some young players throughout the early rounds of the 2012 Investec Super Rugby season.

Hansen, and his coaching team of Ian Foster and Aussie McLean, are already following in the principles that were studiously applied by Sir Graham Henry, looking through trends of the game and ensuring that any tactical advantages will be passed onto the World Champions.

The biggest news for Hansen this week was the ruling out of Jerome Kaino for approximately six months, meaning that the New Zealand Player of the Year will miss the three-tests against Ireland, and the World Champions will be without arguably their most effective player from last season.

Speaking to the NZ Herald, Hansen said it was unliikely the shift of McCaw to cover will occur, although there has been suggestion that perhaps the World Cup winning captain could switch sides to allow for the introduction of another open side to the All Blacks setup.

“He is best at No 7 and I want him to focus on that role,” he said. 

“People do best when they specialise and are allowed to grow into their game and I can't see Richie playing anywhere else except maybe as cover," Hansen said.

Hansen and co were looking at the action so far during Investec Super Rugby, noting that the directness of some players was a good sign.

"We are looking at lots of coverage and seeing some trends and wonder if or how far they will continue this season," Hansen said.

"So far we have seen players get over the advantage line for some success. We have seen Sonny Bill Williams do that from set piece and the Highlanders have been similarly productive with Phil Burleigh."

Hansen said it was pleasing to see the form of some young backs throughout the country, while the second row – at times in recent years an area without extensive depth – is an area where plenty of boom locks were putting their hands up.

Equally he said that he felt that the All Blacks would begin to fire up as the competition progressed.

"There are trends we are watching on television and seeing on our computers," said Hansen.

"There are one or two younger guys who are saying 'look at me.' Now the trick is to see if they can maintain their consistency."

"(For the All Blacks to find form) halfway through the competition would be good, they are big players, they will come right.”

The All Blacks will announce their first 2011 squad in mid-May.

Week 12 of Super Rugby will be the last chance for players to impress, with the Blues hosting the Lions, the Highlanders and Hurricanes play in the only New Zealand Conference derby in Dunedin, while the Crusaders and Chiefs are away to the Rebels and Reds respectively.

While Hansen had indicated previously he wouldn’t be straying too far from a proven All Blacks strategy, he said that it was important that his coaching team get the World Champion’s style correct as they eye off a 14-test schedule.

"This is a busy time for us doing lots of the preparatory work and getting our thoughts together on the gameplan and style that is right for the All Blacks," Hansen said.

"Our basic formula is to get the set piece right, make sure the attack is straight and square and gets over the gainline where we can recycle quality ball properly.

"Then we work on the kicking strategies and strike areas where we plan ideas depending on the style and defence of our opponents. It's working out where to attack the space." 

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