All Blacks coach Steve Hansen is relishing the chance to work with some of his under-used players as he prepares the Barbarians team to play Fiji at Twickenham on Saturday.
Eight New Zealanders feature in the 23-strong invitation squad to celebrate Fiji rugby’s centenary, and the match will allows Barbarians coach Hansen a chance to further develop a handful of All Blacks players who played little or no rugby during their season-ending tour.
Veteran hooker Keven Mealamu and first-season All Blacks Charles Piutau and Steven Luatua are joined by five others who took no part in the Tests against France, England and Ireland this month – namely wing Frank Halai, utility back Tom Taylor, loose forward Luke Whitelock, lock Dominic Bird, and uncapped scrum-half TJ Perenara.
Halai, Whitelock and Bird each won their first Test cap against Japan in Tokyo on November 2, and for Hansen the tour thereafter was about learning off the field in Europe.
“To then have them experience everyday life touring, particularly up in the northern hemisphere, was important,” he said. The Barbarians game has no pressure of a Test match but there will be a similar Test-match type atmosphere with about 70,000 people going.”
Hansen was impressed with the attitude and work ethic of all his young tourists who weren’t involved in the major Tests, and he said they had all been given skills to improve, and a fitness program to complete ahead of next season.
Ardie Savea was not ready to feature in the Barbarians squad, Hansen said, as he had travelled with the All Blacks on an “apprentice scheme” to learn first-hand about preparing for Tests.
“He’s not ready yet, he’s only 97kg.
“One of the big things we wanted to do with Ardie was to not only get him exposed to the environment but particularly to [fitness trainer] Nick Gill and get him in the gym and see if we can get him bigger and stronger.”
Source: ESPN Scrum