All Blacks have 'genuine competition' for places, says Steve Hansen
By Michael Kelleher
Last Updated: 20/08/19 7:44am
The All Blacks have "genuine competition" for who will start on the wings at the Rugby World Cup, according to head coach Steve Hansen.
Ben Smith and Reiko Ioane, who have been fixtures in the side in recent seasons, started on the right and left wings respectively in New Zealand's 47-26 defeat to Australia in Perth on August 10.
But both paid the price for the All Blacks' disappointing performance, as they were dropped by Hansen, along with prop Owen Franks, for last Saturday's return fixture against the Wallabies in Auckland, which the All Blacks won 36-0.
Hansen said at the time: "Obviously, we'd like to see Ben, Owen and Rieko playing better but we've made the decision because we've got to find out more about these other people in pressure-cooker situations and you don't get much bigger than this."
Hansen gave Crusaders pair Sevu Reece and George Bridge the opportunity to start last weekend in place of Smith and Ioane and he was pleased with what he saw.
"We saw lots of energy and we saw lots of intent," Hansen said of the duo.
"They were great under the high ball, great chasing kicks so it's a bit of pressure on the other guys now to front up. There's the old saying 'never give a sucker an even break because he'll take it'.
They were great under the high ball, great chasing kicks so it's a bit of pressure on the other guys now to front up. There's the old saying 'never give a sucker an even break because he'll take it'.
"Now we've got some genuine competition."
Ioane was one of nine players released by the All Blacks for the third round of the Mitre 10 Cup and is expected to play for Auckland against Bay of Plenty at Eden Park on Saturday.
Hansen added that tighthead prop, the midfield and the loose forward mix were areas that would create the most debate, with blindside flanker Liam Squire still in the frame if he made himself available.
Squire missed most of the Super Rugby season through injury and withdrew from contention for the All Blacks due to a lack of match fitness.
The All Blacks will name their 31-man World Cup squad on August 28.
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They face Tonga in their final World Cup warm-up game on September 7 before facing South Africa in their opening Pool B clash two weeks later.
Hansen plans to field a strong team against Tonga, who the All Blacks have played five times previously.
"We'd like probably most of the front liners to get some form of game-time in the Tonga game, otherwise it's too big a break before we play South Africa," Hansen said.