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Steve Hansen expects better from his All Blacks. The master coach made that clear before jumping on the plane to Perth, even if he was notably reticent about the loose forward and fullback selection puzzles he faces ahead of the Bledisloe opener.
Hansen’s defending World Cup champions are in an interesting place as they head to West Australia for stage one of their second most important mission for 2019 – the retention of the prized Bledisloe Cup which hasn’t resided on the Wallaby mantelpiece since 2002.
After twin stuttering performances to open the year, the All Blacks remain a long, long way from the level required to complete a threepeat of World Cup triumphs in Japan later this year. No one is panicking on that front yet, though the New Zealanders’ lack of discernible attacking spark – they have scored two tries through the first two tests – will be a concern behind closed doors.
Plus, with just three hitouts remaining before the RWC pool opener against the Springboks in Yokohama, the All Blacks are fast running out of time to find the rhythm and the lineup they need for that tricky mission. An early loss in Japan would not only be historic – they have never been defeated in pool play – but would put them on a potential quarterfinal collision course with Joe Schmidt’s Ireland.
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The loose forward makeup for Saturday’s first clash against the Wallabies and whether they continue with the “Beau’unga” experiment of playing Beauden Barrett alongside Richie Mo’unga in the starting lineup shape as the two main areas of selection intri
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