Paul Lewis on sport
Paul Lewis is the Herald on Sunday's Sport Editor

Paul Lewis: Time to flush away Hansen

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It's good to know Steve Hansen isn't feeling any pressure. It's great, in fact, because it's a prime reason why the All Black forwards coach should be replaced. Flush the dunny and move on, to coin a phrase.

Hansen's contention last week that he and the All Blacks didn't need any help was risible. Show me a man who doesn't need help and I'll show you a man under pressure; or a defensive control freak; or a corpse.

We all need help. Two (or three) heads are nearly always better than one; someone else nearly always offers a perspective or ideas you might not think of; and good leaders are usually those who take the best from those around them.

Why wouldn't you rush in the likes of Andy Haden, Ian Jones, Keith Robinson, Robin Brooke, or the whole bloody lot of them to help with the ailing lineout?

It can't hurt and it will almost certainly help the players to have a voice other than the one which has led them to this.

The All Blacks have appeared this season as if, offered a lineout or a pine cone in their bottoms, they would choose the latter.

Hansen seems an entirely decent man and is almost universally liked but, because of the All Blacks' losses, poor lineout performances and some recent ill-judged comments, he has come under severe fire.

His "dunny" remark - delivered after the win but poor showing against Italy - has bobbed back into the consciousness after repeated All Black meltdowns in the lineouts. His latest effort, quoting the great American football coach Vince Lombardi as saying that no one had built a statue of critics or 'wannabes' yet, was a terrible piece of misjudgment and mistiming.

As almost everyone has pointed out, they don't build statues of losers either. Lombardi and his Green Bay Packers were among the greats. Hansen isn't.

Even worse, his comments underscore what a lot of people find so distasteful about this panel - with the possible exception of Wayne Smith.

The media and fans have had years of the coaches talking down, maintaining a superior air even as results are not. They are like former British PM Maggie Thatcher, as the recently deceased Fleet Street columnist, Keith Waterhouse, had it. Waterhouse wrote with withering understatement that the 'Iron Lady' spoke to people as if they had lost their dog.

We're all right, Graham Henry and Hansen seem to say (and Smith, by association ... ) and you're all wrong.

The All Black management team is heading into a review of the Tri Nations with the NZRU and a Hansen exit is one possibility (see Gregor Paul story, p92). For Henry, Hansen's comments have had the unexpected benefit of taking the heat off him as the rugby public look critically at Hansen's efforts after a poor Tri Nations.

Hansen's rationale was that the All Black lineout came right in the second half against the Boks so he expected to carry that on against the Wallabies. There's just one little thing. By then, the test was gone; the Tri Nations was gone.

At the start of the test season, we had a crap lineout. We still do - even allowing for the vast improvement against the Wallabies last night. There were some good days but, in reality, the All Black lineout has often been like cottage cheese in a blender - whipped.

Hansen maintained after the last Boks test that the All Blacks' poor lineout wasn't a matter of confidence; it was a lack of skill from the players. It's a lack of skill, all right. Coaching skill.

This has not often looked like an All Black team. You couldn't fault the way they tore into the breakdown either last night or against the Boks.

But the body language and general vibes, particularly against the Boks, did not embody the great tradition of the All Blacks.

These are not men who own the field on which they play; who strike fear into the opposition with the surety of their possession of the basics; the physicality of their play; their efficiency.

There have been strange selections and a puzzling inability to extract the necessary from this team. Most of New Zealand knew last week's Carter-Donald-Nonu combination was flawed, particularly the bloke in the middle. The panel didn't.

Isaac Ross and Owen Franks had last night off because of the wear and tear on their young frames, apparently. Oh my gosh, they're All Blacks. Let them be All Blacks; let them grow. It looked instead as if they had been punished, particularly Ross, because of the lineout business. So a fine natural talent is being stifled because of selection and coaching uncertainty. From such small fissures do mighty cracks in confidence appear.

It is impossible to believe we cannot select and coach a team which can dominate at the set pieces; which can set and execute a rolling maul; which can use territory and possession to rack up points and turn the screw on the opposition - even if that is by "boring" penalties and drop goals.

It's a coaching job, you see. If the Super 14 and the new laws have made us a collection of "loose" forwards, then fix it. Previous All Black coaches have done so. This panel have done it themselves. Do it again.

This column has gone on record as saying it is too late to replace the panel now, as there is no one else - though the NZRU must intervene, to change their style before All Black rugby goes to hell; and that's even acknowledging the missing players.

Hansen may survive but, just to shake things up, he should be given a golden handshake, a copy of Best Bets and Sun Tzu's The Art Of War - where, as a man fond of quotes, he may find this: "A skilled commander seeks victory from the situation and does not demand it of his subordinates." Blaming the players is the last refuge of the embattled coach.

It may indeed be time to flush the Hansen dunny and possibly Smith as well, if for no other reason than to give Henry some fresh voices; a new thrust; new ideas.

The old ones aren't working.

- Herald on Sunday

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