x Abu Dhabi, UAE Friday 21 July 2017

Steve Hansen to herald changes to All Blacks

Graham Henry's successor as coach will need to handle transition with great care.

Steve Hansen has been charged with taking the All Blacks forward.
Steve Hansen has been charged with taking the All Blacks forward.

Steve Hansen, the new coach of New Zealand, assumes control of the Rugby World Cup winners this week knowing he has some tough choices to make on a team in transition.

He was selected on Friday to replace the long-time coach Graham Henry, who left taking with him a legacy of 88 wins in 103 Tests, five Tri Nations titles and a World Cup trophy.

Hansen, who had been brought into the Wales set-up in 2001 by Henry and then served as his assistant for eight years with the All Blacks, inherits a team that is slowly fracturing through retirement and the lure of overseas contracts.

Much of the spine of the World Cup squad will remain intact for the duration of Hansen's two-year contract, though fullback Mils Muliaina and lock Brad Thorn have already slipped off to Japan.

Hansen must make hard decisions on vastly experienced players whose All Blacks careers are nearing an end.

The hookers Keven Mealamu and Andrew Hore, the prop Tony Woodcock, the lock Ali Williams and the centre Conrad Smith are all 30 or older, and Ma'a Nonu will reach the milestone next year. All have achieved more than 50 Test caps for the All Blacks.

The biggest concern could be the possible retirement of two of the greatest players rugby has seen in the fly-half Dan Carter and the captain Richie McCaw.

While both have committed to New Zealand rugby for the next four years, injuries are starting to mount for the pair and it is doubtful whether they will be around for their fourth World Cup in England in 2015.

Hansen will need to continue refreshing the squad to add to the young players like the fullback Israel Dagg, the No 8 Kieran Read and the tighthead prop Owen Franks, each introduced in the last two years, and get them ready for 2015.