Wynne Gray

Wynne Gray is a Herald columnist

All Blacks: Hansen left with plenty to ponder

All Blacks captain Richie McCaw and his men will have to knuckle down in Hamilton after their poor effort in Christchurch. Photo / Getty Images.
All Blacks captain Richie McCaw and his men will have to knuckle down in Hamilton after their poor effort in Christchurch. Photo / Getty Images.

More of Steve Hansen's rugby philosophy and the messages he wants to deliver should emerge as the All Blacks gear up for their final test with Ireland.

The side's fortunate 22-19 weekend win in Christchurch has given Hansen plenty of thought and armory as he re-assesses his test picks.

Lock Ali Williams is a non-starter, heading for surgery on his right knee and eight weeks' recuperation with his return for the Rugby Championship probably in some doubt.

Hooker Keven Mealamu is expected to be available for Saturday in Hamilton and will bring a better balance to the hooking duties with Andrew Hore.

Hansen's selection reaction to the second test performance will be intriguing, given his admission that the All Blacks were given lessons about their preparation.

Will that admission exonerate the players for much of their tepid performance in Arctic conditions or will Hansen drill down and identify players who need a rest?

There may also be a loose forward issue. With No8 Kieran Read retiring at halftime after another head clash, and Victor Vito already off duty, Liam Messam has been called into the squad as cover.

Thoughts will go into the back three, who had their moments of aerial insecurity, while the loose forward changes reduced some of the finesse and there was a lack of front five clout.

"Even though we may have thought we prepared really well, I don't think we have on reflection, because you don't give away stupid penalties as we did tonight if you are in the right zone," Hansen said.

They had played some naive rugby that needed to be balanced against their desire to play the 15-man game.

"But we beat an Irish side that played as good as it could have," he said. "We have not played great but we have showed a tremendous amount of character and played smart rugby to dropkick a goal in the last 30 seconds to win."

It was easy to remember a dropkick (2007 World Cup) they could not convert.

Now we will see whether Hansen chooses to change some players or work with them to get more improvement this weekend.

"Plenty of young men and older men have been reminded what test rugby is all about," he said.

Captain Richie McCaw preached calm and keeping faith with their plans as the game wound into a final 13 minutes with the scores deadlocked.

"We went to what we needed to get a win," he said.

"Composure is a big thing and you have to remember the other team is under pressure as well. At 19-all one mistake either way can be the difference and so you have to try and apply the pressure on them and that's what happened."

High up in the coaches box there was tension as the new group wondered whether a 105-year chokehold on Irish rugby was about to be a giant stain on game two of their international coaching record.

"It was a game we probably shouldn't have won but the character of the team came through, the composure allowed us to do that," Hansen admitted.

He was magnanimous about Ireland's spirited challenge and urged people to ignore Nigel Owens' refereeing decisions for the close match.

"We certainly didn't play as well as we would like but we showed some special character to hang in, win the game with a dropped goal and I feel the last five to 10 minutes, the big guys stood up.

"We got there because we had a plan and everyone did their job under extreme pressure. So the character I was very pleased with."

But now Hansen, Ian Foster, Brian McLean and Grant Fox have to assess the players' contributions against the template set by the staff and identify why there was such a drop in standards when they were so bullish after the first test victory.

- NZ Herald

Stats provided by

© Copyright 2014, APN New Zealand Limited

Assembled by: (static) on red akl_n3 at 24 Jul 2014 00:07:51 Processing Time: 468ms