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Reward for Matt Todd's never-say-die attitude

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Lynn McConnell     28 Sep 2017     Getty Images

Having played all of his career in a position which was the property of All Blacks captain Richie McCaw, and is now the preserve of the developing Sam Cane and the athletic Ardie Savea, Todd has used his surrogacy to his advantage.

It will be his ninth Test, and his fourth start, and it wasn't surprising that All Blacks coach Steve Hansen rated Todd one of his favourite players because of his attitude.

He was in a position where there were a lot of good players and had often missed out.

"He could have got bitter, or he could have got better," Hansen said.

"What he has done is go away and he gets better every time he goes away and has a real sense of pride when he comes back. He just gets on with his work, he's comfortable in the environment."

Last year when called in he had been the players' player of the day when they beat South Africa at Durban.

"He's been in and out of here enough to know that we trust him. We're expecting him to play well, and he'll expect himself to play well," he said.

Choosing him ahead of Savea, who will be on the bench for his 21st Test, came down to what was best for the team, Hansen said.

"It's a little bit like [prop] Wyatt Crockett, we think having a bit of experience at the back end of the game is important. Sometimes you have just got to do what is right for the team.

"We've had a 23-man squad mentality for a long time and we just think the combination of Matty and Ardie looks best when Ardie comes off the bench," he said.

There was also the fact that Todd hadn't played for the All Blacks for a long time and if he was on the bench and Savea got injured in the first few minutes, he could have a battle to be at his best for 70-75 minutes.

The outing was another chance for blindside flanker Vaea Fifita to grow into his role and develop more of an understanding of his role, and of the right moments to go into breakdowns and when to hold back.

"That comes with more game time. He's a physical man Vaea, you want him to be in those physical moments because the opposition become aware of who you are and what you are – just think Jerry Collins," he said.

The comments were applicable to every new player in the side.

"You're never the finished article, it takes some time to learn about international rugby. He's in the infancy of what should be a very good career with the talent that he's got and he's got the work ethic to back that up so as he learns and gets more comfortable in his own skin, in this environment and on the playing field, he'll just get better and better," he said.

Prop Kane Hames was similar and Hansen said while the All Blacks scrum had some early problems against South Africa the focus had gone on Hames after his dispute with a journalist before the Test about his scrummaging ability.

Hansen said he felt the blame was mis-directed at Hames because he believed scrummaging was an eight-man effort and there had been a couple of times when the pack didn't do that very well.

Hames had a lot of self-belief and had had to work hard for his opportunities but he was like other new players in finding his place at Test level. Hansen was confident he would continue to grow his game.

In relation to returning lock Patrick Tuipulotu, Hansen said it shouldn't be forgotten when looking at his past 12 months that he had two major hip operations and it had taken him a long time to get over that. But with all that he had coped with he was fitter, more agile, more powerful athlete than he was earlier.

"It's taken a wee while but he's got there, he's full of confidence at the moment. He's playing well. He played well for a team that is struggling a little bit and that's always a good sign when you can stand up and play well in a team that is struggling. His lineout work has been good since he's been here and he's always been a good scrummager," he said.