'Quiet transition' for All Blacks
'Quiet transition' for All BlacksSHARE
The All Blacks have managed the introduction of young players carefully as they build towards their World Cup defence in 2015.
The world champions have phased in a crop of talented young players while maintaining their dominanace, which has given the new faces a chance to thrive in a winning team.
All Black selector Grant Fox is pleased with the process which has seen players like Julian Savea, Ben Smith, Aaron Smith, Beauden Barrett, Sam Cane and Brodie Retallick thrive on their introduction at Test level.
He told this website that the key was ensuring that they were surrounded by a settled unit of world class players.
"There is a quiet transition going on, and what we are trying to do is, we will still pick the best players, age is no barrier to that. What we will manage very carefully is keeping experience with youth so that the youth can learn.
"There is no point making a massive change and suffering losses along the way, that is not acceptable in New Zealand from an All Black point of view," he said.
The victory over Japan in Tokyo on Saturday gave Fox and his fellow selectors a chance to look at some of their options for the future, although there is still plenty of time for players to make an impression before the World Cup.
"There is still time, right up to 2015 and in fact in 2015 there is every chance that new talent will come in that year, so you don't have to worry about it all just now.
"You have to be open to changes right up to the World Cup, provided that talent is saying 'I'm better than what you have got'. You can't have a young guy coming in who is as good as the incumbent, he has got to be better," he said.
One of the areas of concern is the outside centre berth, with the versatile Ben Smith getting a chance to show that he could replace Conrad Smith with a try-scoring performance at No.13.
Fox said that they believe he has all of the tools to be an outstanding centre.
"Ben is a very talented rugby player and he has played centre before – he played there against Scotland last year. We think he has got a very good skill-set for it and we are short on centre talent in New Zealand at the moment.
"We have had a very high benchmark set by Conrad Smith, so trying to follow him is a challenge for anybody," he said.
Another position under scrutiny is hooker, with Dane Coles getting the opportunity to show he could take the mantle from veterans Andrew Hore and Keven Mealamu, but Fox believes that the next long-term option will come from a current crop of young hookers coming through.
"We are developing Dane Coles, we are very happy with where he is at. We actually believe that we have got a good crop of young hookers, but they are quite young.
"It is a group with a lot of talent, we are just not sure which one yet. We don't want to get that wrong so we will use next year's Super Rugby campaign as a bit of a shoot-out," he said.
One area where they are well covered is at flyhalf, with Barrett and Aaron Cruden proving that there is certainly life beyond Dan Carter, which has come as a relief for Fox.
"We have gone from a bit of a famine to a feast really. If you go back a few years when Daniel was on the injury list we were quite concerned. Now we have been able to develop some depth so we have got some talented young men in that position so we have got some good options," he said.
Fox stressed that the All Blacks' dominance would not result in complacency as they know they are being chased hard by the Springboks.
"We are very happy with our progress but we are not going to sit still. We are going to keep working hard to find ways to get better and we are going to need to do that because everyone is chasing us and there are some good sides about.
"If we want to stay ahead we need to keep finding that edge to do that. If we sit still we will get over-run.
"I think the Springboks have done well, they are a big challenge for any side. For us from a motivational point of view it is great to play the Springboks. It is a great challenge for us and it just brings a special edge, and I know it does vice versa.
"Right at the moment we have had a couple of good wins against them and that could change next year who knows. But they have got a lot of talent here too and they are developing well," he said.
By Michael de Vries