Hansen casts wide All-Blacks selection net

All Blacks coach Steve Hansen wants to play most, if not all, of his 41-man squad in their five Tests leading up to the World Cup.

Hansen will continue to cast his net wide before naming a 31-man squad for the tournament on August 30.

He said on Sunday there will be changes to his team to face Argentina in the Rugby Championship’s opening Test in Christchurch on Friday.

However, Hansen was tight-lipped about how many will make way from Wednesday’s team who battled to a 25-16 win over Samoa in Apia.

The prospect of a Test debut for uncapped pair Lima Sopoaga or James Broadhurst next week appears remote against a Pumas side Hansen respects.

“It’s a big ask to expect (Sopoaga) to come in and take over a role like five-eighth. He’s got quite a bit of learning to do before we let him loose,” Hansen said on Sunday.

“But, at some point, we’d like to think we can get everyone a bit of an opportunity over these next five games.”

The All Blacks face further Rugby Championship Tests away to South Africa and Australia before their World Cup preparations conclude with a return Bledisloe Cup Test against the Wallabies in Auckland on August 15.

Hansen says his selection process will be a week-by-week proposition.

There is a full squad at his disposal next week aside from injured prop Charlie Faumuina and recuperating halfback Tawera Kerr-Barlow, whose places are being filled by stand-by pair Nepo Laulala and Andy Ellis respectively.

Laulala was one of four players to make their debut in Apia while Ellis ended a four-year international drought.

Seventeen players from the Hurricanes and Highlanders were unavailable to face Samoa because of their involvement in the Super Rugby final four days earlier.

They arrived in Christchurch on Friday, a day before the rest of the squad to get up to speed for Test rugby.

Hansen says the two different sets of players will now be treated equally.

“We’ve put a full-stop on Super Rugby,” he said.

“We’ve come together to be an All Black team, but an All Black team is made up of individuals. We’ll do what’s right for the team, and what’s right for the individual.”

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