Rugby World Cup: All Blacks coach Steve Hansen vows to stay loyal to injured stars

2019-06-03 03:42:35

"You are not going to not pick them."

With those eight words All Blacks coach Steve Hansen let members of the Owen Franks and Brodie Retallick fan clubs know they can inhale deeply and enjoy a stress-free winter.

Injuries may have seriously limited their minutes in Super Rugby, yet there's zero chance of tighthead prop Franks and lock Retallick being struck off the roster ahead of the Rugby Championship and World Cup tournaments.

Given their pedigree, and importance to the All Blacks, it's hardly a shock announcement. But it's always nice to hear the All Blacks coach confirm it.

Franks has logged just four appearances and 186 minutes for the Crusaders this year, while Retallick has played 506 minutes in his seven outings for the Chiefs.

"You are not going to not pick them," Hansen said. "You just have to use the Rugby Championship to get them right, and really the Rugby Championship this year is not the main prize.

"The main prize is the Rugby World Cup. Followed very closely by the Bledisloe. We just have to use the games wisely."

So that's the easy bit out of the way. The next assignment is to actually get the pair back on the field.

It has been frustrating waiting for them to return to Super Rugby, only to hear their coaches declare their comebacks have been delayed time and again.

Franks, who has 106 test caps, hasn't played since early April because of a small tear in a shoulder muscle and although it was flagged last week he could play the Rebels this Saturday night, he could be held back until the playoffs after the bye the following weekend.

"He is back training, and probably in the next fortnight he will play," Hansen confirmed. "If he doesn't play this week, obviously they have got a bye (for the final round of the regular season) so he will be back for the quarters."

Retallick has been recovering from torn ligaments in his wrist. The Chiefs hope to have him back after the bye, but given the repeated postponement of his return dates and the team's precarious position on the table it would be foolish to wager on him appearing in Super Rugby again this year.

Another long-term casualty, midfielder Sonny Bill Williams (five appearances, 240 minutes), is training for the Blues after a knee operation and could be asked to play against the Reds in Brisbane.

The All Blacks first game of the Rugby Championship is against Argentina in Buenos Aires on July 21. Hansen confirmed a bigger squad is likely to be named, depending on how many New Zealand teams make the Super Rugby playoffs and the final on July 6.

"Someone like the Crusaders they potentially could make it, and potentially a large number of those guys will make the All Blacks as well," Hansen noted. "It will clearly make a difference if they made it. Or if the Hurricanes made it then not as many players, potentially. So a lesser squad."

While the Crusaders and Hurricanes are destined to make the playoffs, the picture isn't nearly as rosy for the Blues, Chiefs and Highlanders.

But that isn't Hansen's concern, and he said he wouldn't be worried about the lack of representation in the sudden-death phase of the competition.

In 2015 eventual finalists Highlanders and Hurricanes were the only New Zealand teams to make the playoffs, and it didn't impact on the All Blacks defence of the Webb Ellis Cup.

"It's never one of our great years (the World Cup cycle)," Hansen stated. "I'm not saying they have been poor but they are not our greatest years. As the table sits at the moment I think all five franchises have a shot of being in with the results that came in last week.

"From a selfish point of view, from the All Blacks point of view, if they get knocked out early we get access to them early. There are pluses and minuses for everybody."

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