WELLINGTON - All Blacks coach Steve Hansen will again balance the double expectations of winning every test match while trying to give less experienced players a chance to develop as he beds down his tactics and squad for next year's Rugby World Cup.
The All Blacks, who are unbeaten in the Rugby Championship over the last two seasons, have arguably their most settled squad after a raft of injuries to senior players kept them out of various series during that time.
Captain Kieran Read, lock Brodie Retallick and hooker Dane Coles, all of whom missed the 3-0 series sweep against France in June, have returned to the squad, although Coles is unlikely to see action until the end of the tournament.
Loose forwards Sam Cane and Liam Squire also were off the pace in June after returning from long-term injuries and should be back up to speed, adding a combative streak to the All Blacks pack. Hansen used the France series to blood several new players and while injury and form lapses could rule a few out, it is now highly unlikely anyone not already on the staff's radar will make it to Japan.
Five of those who made their test debuts in June, loose forwards Shannon Frizell and Jackson Hemopo, prop Karl Tu'inukuafe, flyhalf Richie Mo'unga and centre Jack Goodhue, were retained in the Rugby Championship squad. Much of the focus will be on how Mo'unga performs when given the opportunity after a superb season for the Canterbury Crusaders during their run to a ninth Super Rugby title.