New Zealand flyhalf Daniel Carter’s absence from the first two Tests against France due to a broken hand will only serve to ramp up All Blacks coach Steve Hansen’s rebuilding project ahead of the 2015 World Cup.
Carter suffered a non-displaced fracture in his right hand against the New South Wales Waratahs last week and was not named by Hansen for the clash with Phillipe Saint-Andre’s team at Eden Park today in the sides’ first rematch since the World Cup final on the same ground in 2011.
The 31-year-old flyhalf, who limped out of the World Cup with a torn groin muscle, was replaced by Aaron Cruden in the crucial pivot role as Hansen focused on rebuilding his side for their world-title defense in England in two years’ time.
“We’ve already said that we have to take some risks and give people opportunities to play, and establish whether they are the future or not. That’s what we’re going to do,” Hansen said in Auckland on Thursday after he named his side for the first Test.
“I think we’re managing the process quite well, we just have to make sure they put it together on the park,” he added.
Part of Hansen’s plans to rejuvenate the squad included the selection of hooker Dane Coles to start his first Test today after he played four times off the bench on the end-of-season tour last year.
“We used him in all the Tests [in Europe] last year,” Hansen said of Coles’ expected promotion, with stalwarts Keven Mealamu and Andrew Hore both 34 and in the twilight of their Test careers.
Hansen said both Mealamu and Hore, who made their All Blacks debuts in 2002, had been invaluable in helping the 26-year-old adjust to the Test environment.
“The two older guys have been superb with him,” Hansen said. “They’ve really helped him and they understand what we’re trying to do. It’s just part of the leadership of the team.”
France have also begun rebuilding ahead of the World Cup as they try to win their first Webb Ellis trophy after losing three times in the final.
Saint-Andre, who sparked the “try from the end of the world” that led to France clinching a two-Test series 2-0 in 1994, which was the last time the All Blacks were beaten at Eden Park, named eight uncapped players in his 35-man squad for the tour.
France had been tipped to win the last Six Nations following some exceptional victories in November under Saint-Andre, but instead were left with their first wooden spoon after winning just one game.
However, Hansen was not prepared to accept that any France team could be written off by his players, especially when it had been done by their own media and fans.
“The hardest time to combat them is when everyone writes them off,” Hansen said.
“They always put in good performances when they’re not expected to,” he added in reference to the 2011 World Cup final, where the All Blacks sneaked an 8-7 victory.
“Phillipe has taken them back to the old French style of playing what’s in front of you and enjoying the game. While they weren’t successful in the Six Nations, I think it’s just about growing back into that game,” Hansen said.
“The easiest way to prepare for them is expect them to show up. If you don’t, you get beaten,” he added.