Wellington - Malakai Fekitoa and Ryan Crotty are likely to get the first crack at
cementing a midfield partnership for the All Blacks when they face Wales
in June, according to coach Steve Hansen.
Hansen needs to develop a new midfield this year after Conrad Smith and
Ma'a Nonu ended their international careers following New Zealand's
successful Rugby World Cup campaign in England last October.
"There's no doubt they spent a lot of time together and gave us a
powerful combination," Hansen told the Sunday Star Times of the former
Wellington duo's international pairing.
"It's going to be difficult to find ready-made people but we still have Malakai and Ryan, both have been around a bit.
"Malakai has had plenty of opportunity to grow and mature and it's going
to be exciting to see how he goes now he's going to be one of the top
"Every time Ryan Crotty has played for the All Blacks he's been
outstanding. He's a player in the Conrad Smith mould. He's not X-factor
but he's certainly reliable."
Crotty has played 15 Tests since his debut in 2013, while Fekitoa, a
member of the World Cup squad last year, has 13 Test appearances since
Hansen said other players were also in contention, with World Cup winner
Sonny Bill Williams likely to be involved later in the year after his
Olympic commitments with the All Blacks sevens side finish.
Waikato Chiefs inside centre Charlie Ngatai, who made his All Blacks'
debut off the bench against Samoa last year, has impressed this year
while Auckland Blues' Rieko Ioane, who has been used mostly as a wing,
would also be in the equation.
"Ngatai is playing really well (and) Rieko Ioane's best position is
probably going to be centre. He's going to be involved with the sevens
but will be free later in the year," Hansen added.
"There's some candidates there we've just got to make sure we pick the
right ones and build them; to give them the opportunities Conrad, Ma'a
and Sonny had."