Hansen expects Ioane to shine against France
IN THE SPOTLIGHT: All Blacks head coach Steve Hansen tipped flying wing Rieko Ioane to demonstrate to French fans on Saturday just why he's ousted Julian Savea from New Zealand's starting XV.
Savea may have scored 46 tries in just 54 Tests - leaving him joint second on the all-time New Zealand try scorers list, with the best strike-rate of the top 10 - but he has been summarily shoved aside in favour of Ioane, himself in record-breaking form with nine tries in 10 Tests.
And Hansen said on Thursday the French will find out just why Ioane, who has made a rapid comeback from mumps to be available, is so highly thought of.
"He's quick - really fast - his work ethic and he's scoring tries," said Hansen when asked what's pushed 20-year-old Ioane ahead of Savea, 27, in the pecking order.
The World Cup-winning coach didn't rule out Savea making a return to the All Blacks but said that a change of attitude was needed.
"He's not playing well enough, that's why he's not in the team.
"He's lost his enjoyment for the game a little bit, I think, and the guy [Ioane] that's playing in his position: you'll know a bit more about him after the weekend I should imagine - he's pretty good," Hansen told French reporters from the All Blacks' Parisian hotel.
"Is the door shut for him [Savea], no. The door's not shut on any All Black if they play well enough - particularly one that scored, what 46 tries from 54 tests.
"It's definitely not shut but he's got to find something in himself that brings him back to that form, and then there's another guy playing as well whose scored a large amount of tries in a very short time himself - it's a real battle.
"That's one of the great things about being an All Black, there's always going to be competition."
Another player adding to that competition is 22-year-old fullback Damian McKenzie, who's been a revelation in the absence of Ben Smith, who's taking a sabbatical.
And flyhalf Beauden Barrett has been hugely impressed by the back.
"He sometimes reminds me of my younger self - I get excited every time he gets the ball because I know what he can do," said Barrett.
"But he's going to get better and better just by experience."
Looking ahead to Saturday's match, New Zealand are expecting to be starved of the ball against France.
"I remember last year was very physical, the French certainly like to come out and almost have that bully mentality," said Barrett.
"I certainly remember the first half of the last match, in particular, was very physical. I'd expect more of the same.
"We're aware that, I think, they're the biggest offloading team in international rugby, and top three for positions so they're kicking a lot less.
"They're building phases, they throw the most offloads so they are starving their opposition of ball.
"I guess our defence has to be up to it, getting on top of that early and not allowing them to get that tempo and build those phases that they like."
France may be depleted with numerous players out injured but Hansen won't be taking them lightly, particularly in light of their tight 24-19 victory in Paris last year.
"I just think that makes you just as dangerous too, particularly the French: when they have no expectations on them they tend to turn up and play well and play with excitement and enthusiasm," said Hansen.
"They're the best offloading side in world rugby at the moment and unless we shut that down, we're going to be chasing our tails for a lot of the game."