Wellington - All Blacks coach Steve Hansen said Monday he will not shy away from axeing his ageing superstars if it boosts New Zealand's chances of defending next year's Rugby World Cup.
Hansen said there will be no room for emotion when he assesses whether veterans such as Richie McCaw, Dan Carter, Conrad Smith and Keven Mealamu make his squad for the tournament in England.
"Much as we have a lot of loyalty to the players... we've got a greater loyalty to the team," he told Radio Livesport.
"You'll make decisions that actually hurt you from an emotional point of view because you're dealing with people that you care about and have a lot of feelings for."
Hansen said such questions were not an issue at the moment because there were no question marks about the form of his senior players, describing skipper McCaw as "probably the greatest player to ever play for the All Blacks".
McCaw (124 Tests) is now 33, Mealamu (110) is 35, Carter (100) 32 and Smith (75) 32. All have taken, or plan to take, sabbaticals to ensure they are fit for the World Cup.
Hansen said the players would not put themselves forward if they did not believe they were up to the job.
"They themselves would tell you if they didn't believe they were playing well enough," he said.
"They'd come to you and say 'I don't believe I should be picked' - that's the type of people we're talking about."