Japan v All Blacks: Live coverage of Saturday's rugby Test in Tokyo
A TEST against Japan which initially seemed one of the most inconsequential of New Zealandâs 2018 season has become more significant and contentious because of coach Steve Hansenâs approach to All Blacks selections.
Hansen has selected eight new caps in his squad for the match in Tokyo on Saturday (4.45pm AEDT), the most rookies in one All Blacks squad since 1986 when the so called âBaby Blacksâ beat France while most leading players were suspended for their part in a rebel tour to South Africa.
The 23 players selected were part of a squad of 51 picked for New Zealandâs five match tour which began last weekend against Australia in Yokohama and will continue with matches against England, Ireland and Italy.
Hansenâs rationale for playing a second string lineup this weekend, in a Test squeezed into the existing schedule, is to spare his top players for tougher Tests against England and Ireland. Most of the regular All Blacks starters have already left Japan.
Critics argue that handing out test caps to players who arenât considered among New Zealandâs best cheapens the jersey and the All Blacksâ heritage.
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Hansen and his backers have hit back angrily against those claims, saying such measures are necessary in modern rugby because of the workload international players face in a season that runs from February to December.
âWe play so many Test matches now and we play so many Super Rugby games that it is a nonsense when you hear people say that they didnât give Test caps away like this years ago,â Hansen said.
âWell, they only played four or five test matches and probably six or seven provincial games.
âToday we are playing 14 or 15 Test matches and you just canât ask the same people to do it all the time and expect them to play to the level we expect them to.â
Hansenâs comments have been widely debated.
All Blacks teams in the era he referred to took on tours to Britain and Europe or South Africa which comprised 18 matches and three Tests, or 24 matches and four Tests, and which involved midweek and weekend matches.
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They undertook those tours, some lasting three months, usually with only 26 players.
In past eras during the domestic season, some players played for the All Blacks one day a nd their provinces the next.
Those players also played club rugby and many worked fulltime.
The impression for some in New Zealand remains that Hansen has been profligate with the All Blacks heritage and disrespectful toward Japan, which theyâll meet for only the seventh time in Tests.
Hansen has also framed the match as a selection exercise with relevance to next yearâs World Cup in Japan.
âThis is a young side, there is no disputing that,â Hansen said.
âBut, as I said, the expectation is that they go out and play really well.
âThat puts a bit of pressure on them, but you get to see how they perform under that pressure which then gives you an opportunity to make some sound judgments when you need to about the selections that are coming up next year.â
Japan (15-1): Ryohei Yamanaka, Jamie Henry, Will Tupou, Timothy Lafaele, Kenki Fukuoka, Yu Tamura, Yutaka Nagare, Hendrik Tui, Kazuki Himeno, Michael Leitch (c), Wimpie van der W alt, Samuela Anise, Hiroshi Yamashita, Atsushi Sakate, Keita Inagaki
Reserves: Yusuke Niwai, Masataka Mikami, Asaeli Ai Valu, Uwe Helu, Isileli Nakajima, Fumiaki Tanaka, Rikiya Matsuda, Ryoto Nakamura
New Zealand (15-1): Jordie Barrett, Nehe Milner-Skudder, Matt Proctor, Ngani Laumape, Waisake Naholo, Richie Moâunga, Te Toiroa Tahuriorangi, Luke Whitelock (c), Dalton Papalii, Vaea Fifita, Jackson Hemopo, Patrick Tuipulotu, Angus Taâavao, Dane Coles, Ofa Tuungafasi
Reserves: Liam Coltman, Tim Perry, Tyrel Lomax, Dillon Hunt, Gareth Evans, Mitch Drummond, Brett Cameron, George Bridge
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