Good signs for All Blacks: Hansen
All Blacks coach Steve Hansen has some tough selection choices ahead, but has been boosted by the knowledge he now has viable back-ups for key men Richie McCaw, Dan Carter and Kieran Read.
The All Blacks got as much as they could have wanted out of their 3-0 series victory over Ireland.
Their forwards dominated and their backs shone in two Tests, and while a narrow win in the second showed their vulnerability, it also highlighted their composure under pressure.
The task will undoubtedly be tougher in the inaugural Rugby Championship against Australia, South Africa and Argentina, but Hansen says the team are in good shape.
“We know that Australia and South Africa will be what they always are: really tough opposition and hard to sneak a win out of,” he said.
“Playing Argentina in Argentina is one of the toughest gigs you can get in Test rugby.”
Probably the most pleasing aspects of the series were Aaron Cruden’s readiness to fill in for Carter, and the successful introduction of Sam Cane as a back-up and likely successor to McCaw.
Another debutant, Aaron Smith, quickly established himself as the first-choice halfback, although Cane and Smith will have be more thoroughly tested by Australia and South Africa.
Recalled players Ben Smith, Tamati Ellison and Liam Messam also performed well, with Hansen saying all three were helping make Rugby Championship selections tough in the loose forwards and outside backs.
“There’s a few conundrums and selection problems we’re going to face, but to be fair they’re positive ones because we’re going to have to leave someone out who’s playing really well rather than having to drag someone in that we’re not sure about.”
The Rugby Championship begins on August 18 when the All Blacks play Australia in Sydney.© AAP 2013