SYDNEY (Reuters) - The All Blacks’ end-of-season tour has taken on added significance for coach Steve Hansen’s planning ahead of the 2019 World Cup in Japan after the world champions were beaten 23-18 by Australia on Saturday.
Hansen will name an extended 37-man squad on Monday for the five-match tour, which includes tests against France, Scotland and Wales and games against the invitational Barbarians and a French Selection.
While Hansen had arguably his strongest possible side available he was missing six first-choice players on Saturday and the two extra games on tour will allow him to look at fringe players as he builds depth for the World Cup.
“We will be taking a decent sized squad and be looking to be smart about how we prepare,” Hansen told reporters in Brisbane.
“It will require quite a bit of work from the staff and some good planning a lot of which we have done already. As long as we are flexible in our thinking we should be fine.”
The tour should also allow Hansen to evaluate how the team is going to dominate games in two years time, given the loss to the Wallabies highlighted some of their weaknesses.
Their attack did not flow with flyhalf Lima Sopoaga struggling to take control of the match, while the Wallabies’ desperate defence harried the All Blacks into making errors.
That has been characteristic of the season, with opposition defences, starting with the British and Irish Lions, able to shut down time and space and put their backs under pressure.
The Wallabies also stopped the All Blacks forward momentum by smashing into tackles and at the breakdown.
The defeat also ended what has been an enigmatic and frustrating international programme for the team.
On three occasions — the 30-15 first test win over the Lions, the first 50 minutes of their opening Rugby Championship clash with the Wallabies when they raced to a 54-6 lead and a 57-0 demolition of South Africa last month — they showed when they get it right, no team can stay with them.
They were unable, however, to maintain that consistency throughout the year, and more importantly from week to week, which could be crucial in Japan.
Despite those frustrations, Hansen is well aware that he has two years to iron out the issues, starting with next month’s tour.
“When you look at the people that aren’t here and the people that are, what a great opportunity for this team to grow and learn,” he said.
“The wheels on the bus keep going around, in two weeks’ time we have to play another game and we’ll take those (lessons) and we’ll use the hurt that’s here to grow.”
Reporting by Greg Stutchbury in Wellington; Editing by Amlan Chakraborty