IRB nominations prove All Blacks' strength

(Rugby News Service) Thursday 20 October 2011
IRB nominations prove All Blacks' strength
Piri Weepu (L) and Ma’a Nonu are IRB Player of the Year nominees

AUCKLAND, 20 Oct. - The nomination of three All Blacks in the IRB Player of the Year awards is a reflection of how strong the squad is and proves that New Zealand can win the World Cup without their usual star players, according to assistant coach Steve Hansen.

All Blacks flanker Jerome Kaino, centre Ma’a Nonu and scrum half Piri Weepu account for half of the six nominations for the prestigious individual award, with the winner to be announced on Monday, the day after the Rugby World Cup 2011 Final between New Zealand and France at Eden Park.

Hansen believes the trio's nomination, and the absence of All Blacks stars such as 2010 Player of the Year Richie McCaw and injured fly half Dan Carter from the list, prove just how talented the team of 2011 is.

“What it does tell us is that team is playing well because we have a number of people playing well,” he said.

“To win the World Cup, we’ve always said you need your top players, your experienced players to be the best players at the tournament.

“You can’t just win it with one person and hence why we weren’t in a state of panic when we lost Daniel, because as great a player as he is, he wasn’t going to win us this World Cup. 

“It’s everybody on the track and particularly your senior players standing up and being the best possible players that they can be.”

Eighty-minute man

One player who has stood out in particular on New Zealand’s path to the decider is Kaino, but the 28-year-old flanker’s nomination has come as no surprise to Hansen.

"I think he's been outstanding all season,” the assistant coach said. “He thoroughly deserves the nomination and one more top performance like he's got then he's got a really good shot of winning the thing."

Kaino has become a stalwart in the All Blacks pack, playing every minute of New Zealand’s RWC 2011 campaign until he was replaced during added time in the semi-final.

"I think that's a credit to where he is physically,” Hansen said. “He's matured into a really strong mental athlete as well. I think that's a reflection again on why he's playing so well. He's always had the athletic ability to be a great player.

“As he's matured that mental strength has come and the desire to be the best has also come. At the moment you'd have to say he's the best number six in the world."

The other nominees for the award are France captain Thierry Dusautoir, Australia's flanker David Pocock and scrum half Will Genia.

RNS omg/sw/rg