Rugby - Starting NZ flyhalf decision indicative of Hansen's dilemma

The task All Blacks coach Steve Hansen faces in having to build a squad for the 2015 World Cup and yet win every test match along the way is encapsulated in the factors he must ponder in choosing his starting flyhalf for the England series.


With arguably the best flyhalf in the world, Daniel Carter, on sabbatical until after three-match series ends, Hansen will hand either Aaron Cruden or Beauden Barrett the number 10 shirt for the first test at Eden Park on June 7.

Nothing if not thorough in his planning, Hansen has brought the pair through as understudies over the past two seasons with Carter's litany of injuries giving him a perfect developmental opportunity.

Cruden has more than stepped up into the starting role, calmly leading the team in nine tests last year, seven of which he started.

Such was the composure of his performances and the increasing development of Barrett within the squad, few have expressed concerns the team would not be in safe hands should Carter get injured again in England next year.

Hansen will no doubt, injury permitting, give Barrett a start during the series but there are some who believe the Hurricanes flyhalf has done enough to tip selection in his favour for the first match.

With Barrett having started just two of his 16 tests, both times at fullback, however, Cruden is the safer bet and Hansen knows what he is going to get in high intensity matches - a calm, reassuring leader and proven matchwinner.

That was never more evident than last year in Dublin, when he calmly re-took an injury time sideline conversion to give the All Blacks a tight 24-22 victory over Ireland that sealed a perfect 14-win season for the side.


It is, however, precisely that knowledge that may cause Hansen to gamble on Barrett and see whether the 23-year-old is able to control a game before it is effectively over on the scoreboard.

While the decision will create some debate - a debate the third flyhalf in the squad, Colin Slade, would also like to be part of - of greater concern is that neither Cruden or Barrett did themselves any favours in their final Super Rugby games.

Cruden, who was making his first start after six weeks out with a broken thumb, was ineffective as the champion Waikato Chiefs were humbled 33-17 by the New South Wales Waratahs in New Plymouth on Saturday.

The 25-year-old was constantly harried by the Waratahs, who implemented a version of the Springboks rush defence to cut down options in the backline and force players to cut back into heavy traffic.

"I'm pretty disappointed, really. Looking back it was probably my worst game in a Chiefs jersey," Cruden told reporters in New Plymouth.

"In such a defining match, you want to put your best foot forward and I didn't do that."

Barrett faced similar problems at Eden Park as the Blues forwards, led by a combative Jerome Kaino, who earned an All Blacks recall on Sunday, disrupted the quality of ball available to scrumhalf TJ Perenara and Barrett.

Barrett's impressive form this season has been grounded in his ability to adapt as he sees the field open in front of him, with clever kicks into space behind the defensive line added to his prodigious punting and superb running.

The fact his game was shut down by the Blues would not be lost on England coach Stuart Lancaster, who is likely to try and do the same thing next week at Eden Park, no matter who is in the number 10 shirt.

View comments (0)