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Pressure on All Blacks for quality foundation

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Lynn McConnell     21 Jun 2018     Getty Images

Having made the decision to start Damian McKenzie at first five-eighths in place of the injured Beauden Barrett, coach Steve Hansen said it was important that the quality of ball he received from the pack, and halfback Aaron Smith, was good enough to allow him to operate at his optimum to drive the All Blacks around in a dry ground game at Forsyth Barr Stadium.

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The decision to start McKenzie was down to continuing his exposure at first five-eighths. The selectors knew Richie Mo'unga, who is on the bench, was going to be a good player while they wanted McKenzie to concentrate on the inside role and they would have Jordie Barrett cover the fullback role from the bench.

"And it's a good opportunity for him to grow and learn from the lessons of the last game," he said.

Hansen said the All Blacks had 'a far more genuine preparation week' in Dunedin. The second Test had been a gift for the side because it had been such a learning opportunity and from what he had observed a lot of the lessons had been absorbed.

The team had been selected with some influence from injuries and to undertake some risk and reward.

The challenge of introducing new players to the side was getting them comfortable enough to be able to express themselves, he said.

There were steps of adaptation players went through, from when they were first introduced to the team and then winning their first cap.
"You've got to make sure that mentally they're ready and there's no doubt that from an athletic point of view that athleticism and talent-wise they're ready but it is just the mental fortitude of going into that arena for the first time.

"So when you've got four of them which is just about a third of the starting group or the 23. You don't want to put them all on the park at the same time, but at some point you will see them all on there," he said.

Hansen said seeing new players get their chance was always enjoyable because it was such a special moment.

Looking at the midfield combination of Sonny Bill Williams coming back from injury and Jack Goodhue on debut, he said they were both big, fast men who were good distributors with Goodhue probably as good as you would get at putting someone into space, he said.

Goodhue had justified self-belief which wasn't a cockiness but an inner belief about who he was as a person.

Jackson Hemopo had a big opportunity. The selectors believe he is best suited to the blindside flank. He didn't have the speed aspect to his game but he was tough and he had played bigger than what he was at lock for the Highlanders.

"Our interest is to see if he can play that No.6 role and give us a bit more depth in that position," Hansen said.
"He's come from basically nowhere and has benefited from someone else's bad luck in Liam Squire and Vaea Fifita's injuries but we're excited about what we've seen and even moreso now that we've had him in with us. He's a quick learner and a real physical player so we're looking forward to seeing him on the park," he said.

It hadn't originally been intended that Shannon Frizell would play during the series but injuries had provided a unexpected chance and Hansen said they were excited about him getting the opportunity.

"He's a great athlete and he's proven over the last three weeks that he's certainly good enough to be in this class. I'm now looking forward to seeing him run out there and do the job," he said.

There had been a deliberate approach to preparing Te Toiroa Tahuriorangi in the halfback role. They wanted to have him coming on when the pack was humming along and doing the job that needed to be done.

"It's a pretty pivotal position halfback so you don't want to be rushing young guys in there. It's a formula that's worked well for us in the past. We took a long time with TJ [Perenara] and it's proven really good for him and conversely we threw Nugget [Aaron Smith] in at the deep end. It's horses for courses and he'll get his opportunity I'm sure," he said.