As the All Blacks celebrated going to the top of the Rugby Championship table Sunday, they were also pondering a new-look line-up for their next match against Argentina.
Argentina’s 32-19 victory over South Africa left the All Blacks the only unbeaten side in the competition after the first two rounds.
But having stuck to his best available players for the 38-13 and 40-12 back-to-back wins over Australia, which also saw New Zealand secure the Bledisloe Cup for a 16th-straight year, coach Steve Hansen said the time was right to test new combinations.
“Obviously, we’ve got people we have to develop and grow,” he said, with the Rugby Championship the start of a long-range preparation for the World Cup which is more than a year away.
“The Argentinian game is not a Bledisloe Cup game so it gives us an opportunity to muck around.
“Not to the point where we’re disrespectful to Argentina, more to the point of growing the talent we have.”
Shannon Frizell and Jackson Hemopo, who debuted against France in June, did not make the match-day 23 in either Test against the Wallabies, and either one could come in for consideration for the Argentina Test in Nelson on September 8.
Uncapped scrum-half Te Toiroa Tahuriorangi, Luke Whitelock, Richie Mo’unga and Nehe Milner-Skudder are also in the squad and waiting their turn.
The experienced Dane Coles, Sonny Bill Williams, Ryan Crotty and Rieko Ioane are on the injured list with some expected to return soon.
One-Test flyhalf Mo’unga had the distinction of outplaying Beauden Barrett as he guided the Canterbury Crusaders to the Super Rugby crown this year.
But Hansen said Barrett’s “special” four-try performance against Australia at Eden Park on Saturday showed why the Wellington Hurricanes’ pivot is number one.
“I understand everyone getting excited about Richie Mo’unga because we’re excited about him. He’s an outstanding young man and an outstanding young player and he’s going to be great as the years go by,” Hansen said.
“But you can’t buy experience and you can’t buy moments in the middle and Beauden’s had those and we saw what happens when those click together.”
Barrett, who also served a long apprenticeship behind Dan Carter, was hailed by the All Blacks for his record-breaking effort against the Wallabies.
With his rapid acceleration and eye for a gap he became the first flyhalf to score four tries in a Test.
His match haul of 30 points, which also included five conversions, broke the previous record of 29 by a New Zealander against Australia set by Andrew Mehrtens in 1999.
Scrum-half TJ Perenara believed that what set Barrett apart was “probably his top two inches” when steering the All Blacks around the park.
“Yes, he’s amazing with what he can do out on the field, but his top two inches and calmness he brings to everyone else is what makes him special,” Perenara said.
”There are always going to be people who try and knock people down. Sometimes when he does stuff on the field I just look at him in awe. But the work he puts in through the week enables him to do that sort of stuff.
“Baz (Barrett) couldn’t care less (about his critics). He knows his ability.”