Rugby World Cup 2019: Steve Hansen's injury concerns ease as Super Rugby nears playoffs

The relatively weak showing from New Zealand sides in this year's Super Rugby is of little concern to All Blacks coach Steve Hansen.

In fact, he almost welcomes it.

Hansen points out the trend of Kiwi teams struggling during previous World Cup years as reason alone not to panic, then quickly highlights the current points table that has all five NZ squads still with a shot at the playoffs.

But if the NZ contingent isn't strongly represented in the post-season, Hansen believes that scenario would have clear benefits for the All Blacks.

"If you look at history in a World Cup year, the playoffs have never been great," Hansen said at Monday's All Blacks foundation day. "Not saying they’ve been poor, but they're not our greatest years.

"From a selfish point of view - from an All Blacks point of view - if they get knocked out early, then we get access to them earlier, so there's pluses and minuses for everybody."

Also of decreasing concern for the 60-year old is the injury toll, which is gradually easing in the latter part of the Super Rugby season, with Sonny Bill Williams, Brodie Retallick, Codie Taylor and Owen Franks all nearing return.

At the top of that list is flanker Liam Squire, who skipped the training day for South Island-based All Blacks before his Super Rugby return against the Bulls next weekend.

Squire's ongoing issues with hip and knee injuries have put a magnifying glass on the black number-six jersey, with the likes of Shannon Frizell, Vaea Fifita and Luke Jacobson staking their claims.

Scott Barrett has also entered the discussion, with some impressive outings for the Crusaders off the side of the scrum, most recently in a barnstorming display against the Chiefs in Suva.

But Hansen is adamant that while he has complete faith in Barrett's versatility, he is first and foremost a lock and Hansen is confident that Squire will make an immediate impact this weekend.

"That's where we believe his career is. Against those big sides, where you don't have hard and fast speedy games, he can definitely play there [at number six].

"The game in Twickenham [against England], he was outstanding and the game in North Harbour [against South Africa], which was a faster game, but against a big pack he was outstanding.

"Would you want to play him there if you were playing someone who had two sevens playing? Not sure - they are good conundrums we have got to solve."

Hansen squashes any suggestion that Sam Cane, seemingly back to his best after a lengthy layoff with a neck fracture, could possibly partner the equally outstanding Ardie Savea in a dual flanker role, but he was open to combining them in another way.

"There's no chance of Sammy and Ardie playing six and seven, no. There might be a chance for them to play seven and eight."

Hansen identifies the midfield as another contentious area, which he expects will become clearer through the Super Rugby finals and Bledisloe Cup.

"We've got players there that are all capable of playing good test football and we can only take four of them.

"We'll take our time though. We're regularly meeting and talking about what we want or are looking for, then it’s just a matter of having to make the tough decisions when the time comes."


Join us for live updates of the All Blacks' 2019 Rugby World Cup campaign