Rugby World Cup 2019: Business time for All Blacks contenders - Steve Hansen

All Blacks head coach Steve Hansen admits it's business time for potential World Cup pretenders, as Super Rugby hits its home stretch.

With just four weeks left in the regular season, time is running out for hopefuls to stake their claim for a spot in the 31-man squad for the upcoming World Cup in Japan.

While Hansen acknowledges players with recent All Blacks experience are frontrunners, he and the selectors haven't closed the door and are still welcoming new faces.

"The All Blacks are starting to come to the fore and play really well," Hansen said.

"But you also have some young guys that we are starting to notice, so those guys aren't doing themselves any harm either.

"But it's the next few weeks that are the most important, so that's the time we start watching individuals rather than the games themselves."

At Monday's Foundation Day camp in Auckland, two players got a special mention when Hansen fronted media - Super Rugby standouts Brad Weber and Josh Ioane.

Weber has led the Chiefs superbly in Brodie Retallick's absence, while the Highlanders young playmaker has emerged as a leading candidate to fill the boots of the injured Damian McKenzie as the backup first-five to Beauden Barrett and Richie Mo'unga.

But Hansen has pumped the brakes a bit on Ioane, preferring to enjoy the young man's rise rather than piling unnecessary pressure on such a precocious talent.

"You don't want to put too much pressure on these kids you know," Hansen said.

“Every 10 in the country, outside of Beauden [Barrett] and Richie [Mo’unga] is probably thinking they are a chance.

"They don't need me talking them up, just let them go and play and we will make the decision based on what we see.”

As for Weber, Hansen is delighted the one-test All Blacks has experienced such a career resurgence this year.

Injuries and inconsistent form have plagued the 28-year-old since his sole international in 2015.

But he’s been exceptional this season, often playing the full 80 minutes for his Chiefs side - a rarity for the modern day halfback.

That has meant limited opportunities for 2018 All Black halfback Te Toiroa Tahuriorangi.

The 24-year-old was a surprise selection for last season's Rugby Championship as the backup to Aaron Smith and TJ Perenara, earning two test caps.

Hansen admits the young scrumhalf’s regression has been a concern, but Weber's form has provided a silver lining.

"Brad's playing really well and that's why Te Toiroa isn't getting too many minutes," Hansen said.

"Brad is leading the Chiefs well and Te Toiroa has come back from his offseason probably not in the shape he should have been in, but Brad's taken every opportunity he has been given.

"That excites me. It's a bit of a double-edged sword really."

Whether Weber's hot streak is enough to push for selection in the Rugby Championship will be revealed next month, but one player Hansen won't have to concern himself with is Israel Folau.

The 30-year-old has been fired by Rugby Australia for his ‘high level’ breach of their code of conduct with his anti-gay social media outburst.

Hansen said he would remind his players of their responsibilities when it comes to social media protocol and the boundaries involved when expressing opinions.

"There is nothing wrong with that, as long as it's not damaging the beliefs of the team or the organisation you work for."

The All Blacks open their 2019 season against South Africa in Johannesburg on July 21.


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