The All Blacks selectors admit it’s a gamble but they will make changes to their in-form team for the final Test against France.
With the three-Test series sewn up courtesy of wins in Auckland, 23-13, and Christchurch, 30-0, coach Steve Hansen is seeking a balance between winning the dead rubber at New Plymouth on Saturday and gifting game time to those players who most need it.
“It’s all about risk and reward,” Hansen said.
“The risk’s not so high at the moment, we’ve won the series. And the rewards of getting guys on the track and seeing how they go will be good.”
The return to fitness of veteran first five-eighth Dan Carter may well see him start ahead of Aaron Cruden, despite the latter’s superb game at Christchurch.
World record Test pointscorer Carter missed the first two Tests because of a cracked bone in his hand. He is yet to train fully during this series but the 31-year-old has been cleared to do so this week.
Experienced prop Tony Woodcock came off the bench at Christchurch after fighting off a nose infection and could start, along with either of the squad’s 34-year-old hookers, Keven Mealamu and Andrew Hore, who have played second fiddle to Dane Coles this series.
Hansen has a host of other options at his disposal including handing a debut start to any of the uncapped Blues trio in his squad – fullback Charles Piutau, midfield back Francis Saili or flanker Steven Luatua.
With his team riding high after one of their best performances in recent times, Hansen is reluctant to overplay his hand.
“You can’t just make wholesale changes and chuck people out there.
“We’ve talked about taking risks. We will look at the long-term plan as well as the short-term one.”
Hansen says it is important to respect France, rejecting a suggestion they will be fragile in New Plymouth after such a comprehensive loss.
Their resilience shouldn’t be underestimated, he says, nor their ability to respond to a stinging defeat.
“We’ve got to stay humble, keep our feet on the ground and work just as hard so we get a performance that we can be proud of.”