Patrick McKendry

Patrick McKendry is a rugby writer for the Herald.

All Blacks: Hansen sees England tour as a fresh step

Steve Hansen is looking forward to the three-test series, starting next month. Photo / Getty Images
Steve Hansen is looking forward to the three-test series, starting next month. Photo / Getty Images

For All Blacks coach Steve Hansen, England are the perfect opposition to play as he seeks to draw a line under his team's unbeaten exploits of last year.

The physically combative English team will ask questions of the All Blacks next month in Auckland, Dunedin and Hamilton that few other nations are capable of doing in a New Zealand winter.

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Stuart Lancasters' men, ranked fourth in the world, are capable of subtlety, but it is the bruising nature of their forward pack and midfield which will focus minds during the All Blacks training camps in Christchurch over the next couple of days and Wellington next weekend.

"The first thing we've got to do is put a full stop in 2013 and say its over," Hansen said. From an outcome point of view it was a season to remember but when you look at the reality of the season there were a number of things we could do better and that's exciting.

"It might be just small margins, 1 per centers, but if can get 4 or 5 one per centers then we've improved by 5 per cent and hopefully that will be good enough to put in a performance that we can all be proud of.

"We've already started that [process] really. We've had two leadership meetings already. We've had numerous management meetings. They're the people who set and control the environment so its important that they understand it first and foremost.

"Its a three-test series which Im looking forward to. I know the biggest challenge of the year for all the teams [we play], and without sounding big-headed, it is they want to beat the All Blacks. Its something that's been happening for years.

"When you're the top dog its a lot easier to be caught with your pants down because you might not have got to that place you need to be. We've seen it already a couple of times with the Chiefs. Now everybody wants to beat the Chiefs and the Chiefs now are expecting to win games as you would when you're the No1 side. If you haven't got the mental side of your game right then other teams are going to smack you."

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Of the 35 players who assembled in Christchurch yesterday, the fitness of Highlanders centre Malakai Fekitoa was under the most scrutiny. Fekitoa wore a moon boot after spraining a foot in his teams victory over the Hurricanes in Wellington, but Hansen expected him to be available to play the Crusaders in Dunedin on Saturday.

One of Hansens first tasks yesterday might have been to improve the morale of Todd Blackadders men after they were beaten 30-25 by the Sharks in Christchurch despite having a numerical advantage following the red card to Jean Deysel in the 16th minute and second-half sinbinning of Willem Alberts.

A boost would have been the improvement of No8 Kieran Read, who told Hansen he was ready to start training following his four weeks out with a second concussion of the season. He told me this morning he's feeling a lot better and ready to train.

Hansen confirmed Dan Carter would play his way back into match fitness at club rugby following his sabbatical.

Carter would not play for the Crusaders against England.

- APNZ

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