The All Blacks decision to field their second-string side against Namibia, under a new captain in Sam Cane, is part of the big picture they have taken of the World Cup, according to coach Steve Hansen.
The New Zealand mentor appeared to consider the game more as a valuable training run referring to it as a chance to “rehearse” and give all his squad valuable game time.
Only three players survived from the All Blacks opening 26-16 win against Argentina – wings Julian Savea and Nehe Milner-Skudder along with lock Sam Whitelock – for the Pool C match at London’s Olympic Stadium on Thursday.
“The big thing for us is to be able to get out there, give everyone an opportunity to have a run, get some game time under their belt, keep working on our structures and our skillsets,” Hansen said when naming the team on Tuesday.
Such is the depth of talent he has to call on, Hansen will still field a team with more than 400 caps and as an insurance policy team leaders Richie McCaw and Kieran Read head a posse with 660 caps on the bench.
The 23-year-old Cane, who pips McCaw by two months to be the fifth youngest All Blacks captain, will take over the leadership for the first time as a Hansen investment for the future.
Cane has been McCaw’s openside flanker understudy in his 25 Tests since debuting in 2012 and Hansen described him as having “a good rugby brain, happy to voice his opinion and lead by example and lead by his voice”.
“It’s great to give someone an opportunity we have a lot of faith in,” the coach said.
Milner-Skudder and hooker Codie Taylor, with three Tests each are the only players in the side with single-figure experience.
With only three locks in the squad Whitelock backs up with Luke Romano while the option of using flanker Jerome Kaino in the second row was abandoned after he received a slight hamstring knock against Argentina and Hansen considered it prudent not to risk him.
“I don’t want any injuries,” the coach said. “We want to be able to get out there and execute our game and rehearse against some opposition.”
Sonny Bill Williams, who starred in the All Blacks come from behind win over Argentina when he came on as a replacement in the second half, will start against Namibia in partnership with Malakai Fekitoa in the centres.