Ross Karl: Dropping All Blacks no longer in play as selectors continue to protect players

OPINION: These days, it seems pretty hard for All Blacks to be dropped.

Or perhaps it's just hard for the public to tell if they've been dropped or not.

Ever since Graham Henry introduced the 'rest and rotation' system more than 12 years ago, coaches have had an easy out, so they don't have to admit when a player is axed because of form.

We've become so used to talking of workload management and building depth that very few coaches will now reveal when someone has been dropped.

You rarely hear a coach say an established player isn't playing well enough. They often disappear through the smokescreen.

Julian Savea is the only example that stands out whose form slump was too obvious to spin any other way.

So, with the Bledisloe Cup on the line, a week after the All Blacks conceded a record 47 points, have Owen Franks, Ben Smith and Rieko Ioane been dropped for Saturday’s decider?

Here’s Steve Hansen’s line on the selections. 

"Obviously, we'd like to see Ben, Owen and Rieko playing better, but we've made decisions because we have got to find out more about these other people in big pressure cooker situations and you don't get any bigger than this one."

When pressed on whether Franks, Smith and Ioane were dropped? 

"Well, they're not playing, so you can say they've been dropped, but…" (Tails off sentence).

Hansen insists he would have played Nepo Laulala, George Bridge and Sevu Reece this week, no matter the result in Perth.

"To win the World Cup, we have to roll the dice a little bit. That's the number one priority, but we wouldn't be doing it, if we didn't think the guys we put in are good enough to do the job."

So, there you go. Yes, they're not in top form, but no, no-one has really been dropped.

So he was asked if this is a trial XV. The response proves my point.

"There are never any trial XVs with the All Blacks. It's the best team you think that can play the game at the time, but at the same time, you have got to grow depth and grow experience, and you don’t get that without playing."

So, there are never any trials - except for when you’re trialing someone.

On face value, Hansen's explanation is plausible - there IS a World Cup not far away and a squad to pick.

But when you've heard these phrases so many times, you get a little cynical.

This isn't any old test to be trialling young players. If the experiment doesn't work, the Bledisloe Cup could head across the Tasman for the first time in 16 years.

Maybe the only way to tell who is in the top team nowadays is via long-term selection trends.

Miss out repeatedly and you're obviously out of favour... but then players often lose favour weeks just after being rested for other reasons.

So have they been dropped? Tune into the World Cup opener against South Africa. You'll probably see the best All Blacks team then.

Unless there's an injury... or suspension.

Ross Karl: Dropping All Blacks no longer in play as selectors continue to protect players

Ross Karl is Newshub's rugby editor.

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