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New Zealand’s preparations for the Rugby World Cup appear in disarray after coach Steve Hansen was forced to drop two of his most experienced players in response to the record Bledisloe Cup loss to Australia.
Hansen has axed prop Owen Franks, a veteran of 108 tests and two World Cup victories, and 79-test winger Ben Smith in drastic changes to his lineup for the return test at Auckland on Saturday.
New Zealand has held the Bledisloe Cup for 17 years but its grip on the trophy was shaken by Australia’s 47-26 win last weekend in the first test of the two-test series in Perth. The All Blacks must extend their 33-year, 18-test winning streak over Australia at Auckland’s Eden Park to retain the trophy.
Hansen is known to be fiercely loyal to senior players, giving them the chance to play themselves back to form whenever their performances have been questioned.
His move to drop two of his most senior and trusted lieutenants, which may signal the impending end of their test
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