Far from any hand-wringing about a lack of depth, the All Blacks rugby selectors are welcoming their selection headaches caused by the new caps as they nut out a team to face Wales here on Saturday.
There were few training ground hints today as they got into World Cup soccer fever with an indoor kick-around for their Monday ‘recovery games’ as bitterly cold rain lashed the roof.
Halfback Jimmy Cowan (groin) sat out the session with the minor niggle that saw him replaced by Piri Weepu during the 66-28 win over Ireland in New Plymouth last Saturday, while Mils Muliaina (calf) and Tom Donnelly (ankle) also played little part as a precaution.
The team will be revealed at tomorrow’s first serious hitout of the week, where the main talking point will be how far the coaches go in their wish to see the entire 27-man squad in action.
Richard Kahui (chest) and Muliaina got through a Hamilton club match for Te Rapa last Saturday. If both were recalled it would mean bad luck for second five-eighth Benson Stanley and fullback Israel Dagg, who deserve another crack after excellent debuts in New Plymouth.
“It’s only difficult when you don’t have people to select from. Now our opportunities have grown because we’ve got more quality people to choose from,” assistant coach Steve Hansen said.
“If Mils is not 100 percent then we won’t pick him. If Kahui is not 100 then we don’t have to pick him. We’re not being forced into making selections because we don’t have depth.
Coach Graham Henry expressed a desire to see all his squad in the next fortnight to test whether they have the goods for Tri-Nations selection.
With Cowan’s niggle it could mean a start on Saturday for Weepu at Carisbrook, while last year’s first-choice props Tony Woodcock – up against tough competition from debutant Ben Franks– and Neemia Tialata could get chances to say ‘don’t forget me’ along with Kahui and Muliaina, if fit.
Impressive reserves bench forwards Victor Vito and Sam Whitelock, who both debuted against Ireland, could also enter the starting 15 mix.
Hansen expected Wales’ priority would be to try to slow the All Blacks’ ruck ball, which a 14-man Ireland struggled to do as the home side cut loose in the first half.
Kickoff reception and defence would be the key focus for the All Blacks this week, the latter a slight concern as they let in four tries against Ireland with the test safe and the entire reserves bench on the field.