WELLINGTON, Aug 21 (Reuters) - Ryan Crotty's elevation to his first test start for the All Blacks on Thursday was hardly a major surprise after Ma'a Nonu was ruled out by injury, even if the 25-year-old centre was not even in the squad a week ago.
The Canterbury Crusaders vice-captain was initially left out of the Rugby Championship squad but called in at short notice last Friday when Conrad Smith had to rush back to New Zealand to be with his wife for the birth of their first child.
That last minute re-jig propelled Malaki Fekitoa into the starting centre role and brought Crotty back onto the bench, where he played 23 minutes and helped pull off a try-saving tackle on Pat McCabe in the 12-12 draw in Sydney.
Nonu's shoulder injury and Smith's return forced Hansen to re-adjust his midfield combination for the return clash this Saturday at Eden Park.
Rather than force Fekitoa in closer to the scrum, Hansen decided to give Crotty, who regularly plays inside centre for the Crusaders and Canterbury provincial side, his first test start.
"The biggest point is that he's played there a lot more than Mala," Hansen told reporters in Auckland.
"He's comfortable there, Mala is still learning to play there and to put him in that situation as a young footballer is probably not fair to Mala.
"Ryan has played well there whenever he has played for us so we have a lot of confidence in him."
Hansen's confidence in Crotty has grown after seven highly competent performances off the bench since he was given his first test jersey against the Wallabies in Sydney just over a year ago.
His contribution in one of those appearances holds more significance to the annals of New Zealand's sporting history than the others.
Crotty was at the end of the chain when he received a superb pass from replacement hooker Dane Coles to score after the hooter had sounded against Ireland last November at Lansdowne Road.
His try levelled the scores at 22-22 and when Aaron Cruden slotted the sideline conversion at the second attempt, the first perfect season since rugby went professional was achieved.
While a calm nature as well as solid defensive and organisational skills have been invaluable as a 'super-sub', Crotty said he found starting much easier to prepare for.
"It's a little bit easier than coming off the bench," Crotty said.
"I haven't played off the bench much for Canterbury or the Crusaders for the last couple of years.
"To know when you're going to be out there, having in time in the saddle learning all the moves, it probably makes it a little bit easier."
While selecting two smaller players in Crotty and Smith could pose an issue getting over the gainline or containing fullback Israel Folau and the world class Adam Ashley-Cooper, Hansen was unconcerned.
"They'll be pretty good," Hansen said. "They've had a lot of training time together and they'll complement each other.
"They're both intelligent players, with good ball skills, both good defenders, both good talkers, both have had experience as captains and leading their franchise teams." (Reporting by Greg Stutchbury; Editing by Nick Mulvenney)