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Baby Blacks not so baby anymore

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James Mortimer     21 May 2012     Getty Images

And why wouldn’t he, with the premier age group platform in New Zealand proven to be the best in the world, courtesy of four straight Junior World Cups.

This pathway has been in place for some time now.

In 2008 New Zealand won the inaugural Junior World Championship (after the Under-19 and Under-21 divisions effectively merged), and the most noted members of that squad – Sam Whitelock and Zac Guildford – have played at test level.

Some Baby Blacks take more than a season or two to kick on after such success, with 2008 players Aaron Smith and Andre Taylor examples of fine wine style figures who have uncorked their best vintages this year.

In 2009 Aaron Cruden rose to prominence, winning the IRB Junior World Player of the Year award that season, while the following campaign Julian Savea, Luke Whitelock and Tawera Kerr-Barlow featured for New Zealand.

However this season the succession route has become even more defined, with six players from the victorious 2011 group rewarded, with Brad Shields, Brodie Retallick, Beauden Barrett, Sam Cane and Ben Tameifuna called into the All Blacks first training selection of the season.

Players like Shields and Cane, who haven’t had the same chances to display their wares in 2012 Investec Super Rugby like Barrett, Retallick and Tameifuna, were noted after their consistent performances in Italy last year.

In the past playing for the New Zealand Under-20 side was far from a guarantee of test selection in the next season or two.

However with Hansen admitting his World Champions had an aging core, the exploits of the next generation of All Blacks have been rewarded as the new coach starts the foundations of a succession plan.

Naturally it is a win-win situation, for not only are the Baby Blacks rewarded, but they will benefit from being in the presence of experienced test veterans and World Cup winners.

And no doubt Hansen and co will encourage the young bucks to continue putting pressure on to ensure that no All Black is allowed to rest on their laurels.