Hansen – ‘Injuries blessing in disguise’

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Going up against a long-respected rival like South Africa down on experience due to injuries and unavailability has its positive side in the longer term for the All Blacks.

They will complete another successful Rugby Championship campaign against the Springboks in Cape Town on Sunday (NZT) but coach Steve Hansen is looking at the good things that have emerged from the season, especially with the World Cup less than two years away. 

"We are looking to play a team who will be hurting incredibly I would suggest after Albany and we need to make sure that we meet that and continue growing and developing ourselves," he said in Cape Town. 

"Whilst we've left some people out that people might have thought might have got a game, or we could have given someone else a rest, there's a bigger picture and we know where we're going with the rest and stuff so we're comfortable with what we've picked," he said. 

The development of the side had been helped by the injuries and absentees for the side at the moment with the likes of Joe Moody, Owen Franks, Israel Dagg and Ben Smith to come back. 

"You've got two world-class front rowers to come back so the opportunity to grow Kane Hames, Ofa Tu'ungafasi and Nepo Laulala has been great. Damian McKenzie is growing at fullback even though deep down we don't really think that's his position but he's going to play a lot at five-eighths I suggest for the Chiefs this year with [Aaron] Cruden gone so there's a guy that could play both positions. 

"[Lima] Sopoaga is going to get plenty of time over the next six to 18 months, he's going to grow, so we've got some players that will come back and the group that we've got are growing," he said. 

"We're not panicking too much yet about the World Cup, but we are developing and that's what we need to do." 

Hansen was happy the move to have five of the players miss the Argentine leg of the trip had resulted in them being fresh for the South Africa Test. Sam Whitelock, Sam Cane, Lima Sopoaga, Liam Squire and Ryan Crotty made the trip from New Zealand to South Africa last Friday. 

"Whenever you're not in the group, when you come back into it, you can notice people have missed it and aren't taking it for granted so that freshen up for them has worked well for us because they've just lifted everybody else up," Hansen said. 

"We've had a good week. Whilst we haven't sweated a lot we've done some good work on getting our clarity done and a lot of relationship meetings and a lot of mental stuff done for getting that clarity and that need to be able to hook into it on Saturday," he said. 

Flanker Squire had been playing outstandingly and had been left at home to freshen him up for this game. Jerome Kaino just had to keep on doing what he was doing and he would get his opportunities with the Bledisloe Cup Test and games on the northern tour coming up.