8 Aug 2015

Hansen tinkers in quest for perfect RWC mix

6:34 am on 8 August 2015

OPINION: No one can say they didn't get a look-in when it comes to Steve Hansen's World Cup selections.

All Blacks Nehe Milner-Skudder and Dan Carter.

All Blacks Nehe Milner-Skudder and Dan Carter. Photo: PHOTOSPORT

The coach continues to tinker with his squad and try different players ahead of the Cup in September.

And this weekend's Rugby Championship decider against the Wallabies gives another player an opportunity to show if he is worthy of a spot on the plane to England.

Exciting Hurricanes three-quarter Nehe Milner-Skudder debuts on the right wing and a positive performance could get him into the 31-man squad.

Milner-Skudder, 24, appears to have the goods that could see him play quite a few tests.

He actually comes from good stock and follows in the footsteps of two of his relatives who played for the All Blacks - Buff Milner and George Skudder.

Henare "Buff" Milner played one Test against the Springboks in Port Elizabeth in 1970, while George Skudder also played one Test against Wales in Auckland in 1969.

The fact that Milner-Skudder has been selected to play is interesting.

Sure, he was given a chance after a breakout season with the Hurricanes, but many felt he was probably one of the also-rans and that he would probably only get selected if there were injuries.

It seemed the majority of the All Blacks squad would be made up of players who had guided the team to success since the last World Cup, with perhaps the odd relative newcomer thrown in to gain some experience.

Most would have thought that Hansen had his squad decided and was probably going to rotate those guys during the Rugby Championship to give them match time so they could work on combinations.

But the All Blacks coach has to be congratulated for giving so many other players the opportunity this year to show what they've got.

Codie Taylor, Nepo Laulala, James Broadhurst, Lima Sopoaga, Waisake Noholo, and now Milner-Skudder have all been thrown into the rugby cauldron against some of the best teams in the world.

But who will make Hansen's World Cup squad?

While Noholo is definitely out through injury, Sopoaga is probably still the fourth pick for first-five, and the rest have to beat out incumbent players - it is possible for a number of them.

Hansen admits some of the players won't make the trip, but he wants them to know the All Blacks systems and be comfortable in the environment if they are called up.

Wallabies will be dangerous in Sydney

As for this match in Sydney, it's very much about a Wallabies team who will be trying very hard to beat the All Blacks.

Wallabies Matt Giteau and Israel Folau.

Wallabies Matt Giteau and Israel Folau. Photo: PHOTOSPORT

The Australians last won the Rugby Championship in 2011 (and we know what happened later that year), while they haven't had their hands on the Bledisloe Cup since 2002.

Sure, the Bledisloe is sometimes only played for twice a year and the All Blacks only have to win one of those Tests to retain it, but still.

Australia last beat New Zealand in Brisbane in 2011 on their way to the Championship title. In the 10 games since, they've managed just two draws, both at home.

The Wallabies have played well so far this year, coming from behind for a dramatic win over the Springboks and then a good win over the Pumas.

It's good to see Matt Giteau in the mix again, he may not be the player he once was, but he was always a player that I feared when he came up against the All Blacks because the New Zealanders found it difficult to contain him.

Player for player it'll be a close contest, but what the All Blacks have as an advantage is knowing how to finish off a game.

Long gone are the days when if things didn't go well it was a lost cause, but there is enough experience and knowledge there for them to compete to the end and come from behind if necessary.

Is a loss ahead of the World Cup a bad thing?

Probably not, but we won't hear the end of it if it happens tomorrow.

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