No McKenzie, no worries
REACTION: All Blacks coach Steve Hansen has attempted to douse the fiery argument raging in New Zealand over a perceived flyhalf crisis ahead of the World Cup.
He suggested the loss of Damian McKenzie was not an issue.
“It’s been blown up as the end of the world’ but it’s not, because it can’t be,” he told the Sunday Star-Times.
“We can’t allow it to be.”
Ever since McKenzie suffered a season-ending leg injury two weeks ago, the New Zealand news media have run repeated analyses of a perceived crisis.
They argue there is daylight between McKenzie and the next best utility player capable of backing up Beauden Barrett and Richie Mo’unga at flyhalf.
Former coach Graham Henry weighed in with his suggestion of a recall for the 37-year-old Dan Carter, whose last Test was the 2015 World Cup Final.
But Hansen said his ideal utility did not necessarily have to cover the No.10 jersey as McKenzie did.
“Where we’ll miss him most is his ability to rip teams apart. It’s not so much a positional thing,” said Hansen who is looking to end his storied coaching career in Japan later this year with a third consecutive World Cup.
“He’s very much like a young Beauden [Barrett]. He can cover a couple of positions but he’s got ability and speed to open sides up. Beauden did that job last World Cup very successfully.
“That takes the pressure off to find someone like that because we’ve already got someone who is world-class at it.”
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Hansen said he had to factor in the All Blacks World Cup pool which included South Africa and the less formidable Italy, Namibia and Canada.
“It all comes down to the risk-and-reward factor,” when weighing up the balance of the squad, he said.
“There is plenty of talent in our No.10s, it’s just whether we’ve got someone with the right amount of mental fortitude to come in and do it. We won’t panic. We’ve got plenty of people who can play multiple positions, and that gives us flexibility in our selection process.
“If there’s a third [flyhalf] we feel is up to the mark, we’ll take him. If not, we’ll cover it from within the group. Then we take another outside back who can rip and tear and open teams up.”
The All Blacks took a trio of flyhalves to the 2015 World Cup with the number three option, Colin Slade starting only one pool game and that was at fullback.
However, a string of injuries at the 2011 tournament meant reduced the All Blacks to their fourth-best choice Stephen Donald who kicked the winning penalty in the final.