Gregor Paul is the Herald on Sunday's rugby writer

Gregor Paul: Error count off the scale

The Bledisloe Cup match between the Australian Wallabies and the New Zealand All Blacks. Photo /  Cameron Spencer
The Bledisloe Cup match between the Australian Wallabies and the New Zealand All Blacks. Photo / Cameron Spencer

Steve Hansen's claim that the Brisbane clash was one of the ugliest in which he'd any involvement as a coach is a sobering thought and probably not that far from being true.

One of the best closing five minutes in recent history couldn't disguise the fact that rugby had failed to break out in the previous 75. The All Blacks' error count was off the scale - the Wallabies not far behind. Simple things weren't done well and the All Blacks were right to identify their biggest pre-match challenge would be getting the best out of themselves.

What should alarm about Hansen's assertion is that when he was coach of Wales, his tenure saw them win only 10 from 29 tests: they lost to Italy. They even lost to Scotland and were given a frightful hiding by the All Blacks before the World Cup.

Hansen was also involved, as assistant coach, in the infamous slog against Italy in June 2009. That was the game that provoked him into the legendary, "flush the dunny and move on" line.

"That was one of the ugliest games of rugby I have ever been involved in," he said. "We are obviously really, really disappointed. Too many avoidable penalties. Too many avoidable mistakes. Some of those mistakes came from pretty good play by Australia, but others didn't."

Quite why the All Blacks were, by Hansen's estimation, 10 per cent off their best is a mystery they will try to solve next week before they head to Edinburgh.

The mitigating factors of the death of Hansen's father, or the emotion of it being Keven Mealamu's 100th cap, were both dismissed as valid.

The All Blacks, much as they did when they were similarly poor against Ireland earlier in the year - although that time they did escape with the win - blamed their preparation.

It has become the key aspect of their thinking these days. The test week is six days long, the game only 80 minutes: what they do before they reach the field is therefore critical.

The draw, of course, ended the prospect of setting a new world record of consecutive test victories - something captain Richie McCaw was irked about, but for tangential reasons.

"The thing that hurts," said captain Richie McCaw, "is the try to get better each week. This week we wanted to go out there and perform well and beat the Wallabies.

"I guess that we will reflect when we get home that its a bugger that we didn't get it right, but that is just the way it is from now and we have to fix it up."

Despite the doom and gloom, Hansen did make sure to praise the character of his team for at least nailing the draw. To have played so badly and yet still not lost the game - that took depth of character and the decision to scrum after the hooter, and get so close to snatching the win, showed how dangerous this side can be even when they are way off their best.

- NZ Herald

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Gregor Paul is the Herald on Sunday's rugby writer

Gregor Paul is the Herald on Sunday's rugby writer. He has written several books on rugby including the Reign of King Henry, Black Obsession and For the Love of the Game.

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