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Hansen's World Cup plans may be ahead of schedule

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James Mortimer     01 Sep 2013     Getty Images

The All Blacks, as defending Rugby World Cup champions, will be quite happy with the state of affairs roughly 24 months after winning their second Webb Ellis Cup.

They have only lost once since beating France at Eden Park, and only a dozen players are left from that heady day in 2011.

However unlike former World Cup winners, the All Blacks haven’t been caught off guard with the progression of the team, and a central part of the Hansen regime's grand plan has been the continued introduction of fresh blood, a theme continued this year.

Aaron Smith and Julian Savea were the headline acts of the debutants last season, while Steven Luatau and the re-emergence of Ben Smith have been talking points so far in 2013.

This has combined with the growth of the middle tier, the likes of Sam Whitelock, Owen Franks, Brodie Retallick and Israel Dagg proving their value to the black jersey, providing a crucial cushion between the likes of McCaw and the elder statesmen and the new faces that continually emerge.

What has kept the All Blacks progress constant despite the changes to personal has been ability of their men over 30, several key players wielding well over half the current squads Test caps, to continue performing on the highest stage.

It would be a brave selector, even one with Steve Hansen’s forthrightness, to skip over the likes of Conrad Smith, Tony Woodcock and the grizzled confidence that Keven Mealamu and Andrew Hore still offer to the team.

Yet while questions over the development of the All Blacks midfield will be in front of Steve Hansen, Ian Foster and Grant Fox’s minds, they will be happy with the stacked areas, with halfback, first five-eighth and the three quarter lines boasting some pleasing competition.

But Hansen and the All Blacks have ensured that regeneration and development are primaries, and while one of the team’s constant goals to remain a winning team haven’t been compromised, the fact that an aging core has never been allowed to rust has the dream of becoming the first nation to defend a World Cup alive and kicking.