The All Black cup runneth over

Selecting your best All Black team has become something of a dilemma even for the most analytical fan, and it comes no easier if you are the All Black coach, as Graham Henry, Steve Hansen and Wayne Smith admitted on Monday.

In every position, it is all about options, and taking the right ones at the right time, according to the trio.

Thus it is at hooker, Anton Oliver starts instead of Keven Mealamu, as he is the better scrummaging option. At centre, the options at 12 are ticked, now the coaches want Isaia Toeava as the box-ticking option at 13, and Greg Rawlinson is the new option at second row on merit, despite being, in all probability, the fourth in line behind Chris Jack, Ali Williams, and Jason Eaton.

Over and over that word cropped up during Monday’s team announcement press conference – almost as if the coaches were having a quiet gloat over their bottomless well of world-class talent.

The line-out is the perceived weakness in the All Blacks at present, and when up against Victor Matfield and Bakkies Botha, that perception is not just because of the current injury problems plaguing the AB locks.

The Boks may have lost their captain and line-out thrower in John Smit though, but he is not the man the coaches have been studying.

“Clearly South Africa have a excellent line-out, Bakkies Botha and Victor Matfield have been working very well, so we must execute our set pieces perfectly,” said Steve Hansen.

“Losing John Smit doesn’t change anything, except the effect he has on their ball. The main threat for them is Victor Matfield.

“Greg Rawlinson has been consistent for the Blues and Junior All Blacks and I think he is playing at a higher level than he did last year.

“It’s a big challenge for him. He had a head knock a couple of weeks ago, which is why he didn’t play last weekend.”

Smit will most probably miss out on facing an old adversary in Anton Oliver if, as expected, the Bok captain is ruled out with his hamstring tear.

Oliver’s selection raised a few eyebrows, not least because Keven Mealamu combines with both Troy Flavell and Rawlinson at Super 14 level, but up cropped that word ‘options’ again, when the coaches were asked about their choice.

“As far as hooker goes, we have three great options there, but we reckon Anton is the better scrummager and we prefer Keven coming off the bench for this one,” said Hansen.

Then there are the options at centre, which Wayne Smith went to great lengths to explain, particularly the inclusion of Isaia Toeava at outside centre and the challenge he faces in a position which the All Blacks are yet to fill entirely convincingly and consistently.

“Selecting Aaron Mauger was a major selection, both he and Luke McAlister have been playing so well, and Luke showed last week just how versatile he is,” said Smith.

“We have a lot of options both there and at 13, but Aaron is on top form, and Isaia has shown he is the best at 13 right now.

“We know we have the options at 12, we want to tick the box at 13 too.

“We are not expecting anything to special, we don’t want to put pressure on him, he is still a young man.

“He has had a good season. We are just trying to look after him and work all the combinations we can with him. He is an exciting player, we just want to continue developing him.”

Options, options everywhere. A handy position to be in indeed, when you come up against your most respected adversary in the toughest tournament, according to Henry.

“We understand that coming here is the biggest challenge we face in world rugby, I think we have won only one in four here since this management group has been together. But it is the challenge we find the most stimulating,” he said.

“There has been a major step forward in SA rugby this year.

“Their Super 14 was brilliant, they played very good and structured rugby, and it i

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