All Blacks: Hansen trusts under-performing players

All Blacks coach Steve Hansen. Photo / Getty Images.
All Blacks coach Steve Hansen. Photo / Getty Images.

After making a solitary change to the side facing England on Saturday, Steve Hansen succinctly explained why more under-performing players weren't on the chopping block.

"If you turn around and say, 'so and so shouldn't start because he played poorly', we wouldn't have anyone on the park," Hansen said after this morning naming his side in Dunedin. "That's how bad the performance was."

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Indeed, the All Blacks are aiming for vast improvements from the effort that saw them scrape by the tourists last weekend, and Hansen thinks the current set of starters are the men for the job.

Aside from the injury-enforced withdrawal of Israel Dagg - replaced at fullback by Ben Smith with Julian Savea coming onto the left wing - the players who barely claimed victory in the first test have been tasked with sealing the series.

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And there's a simple reason for that, according to Hansen.

If the All Blacks struggled with fluidity in attack after limited time together, why compound the problem by introducing a host of fresh faces?

"We know some of the reasons why we played poorly and one of them was a lack of preparation time," the coach said. "So there's no point recreating that again by putting new faces in.

"It's about us working hard on our skillsets, understanding how we want to play and then going out and delivering on that. As a coaching group and a playing group we have faith in what we're trying to do. It's just a matter of getting it right on the night."

Hansen thought his charges' skillsets were as poor as they have been during his reign and, after watching a succession of dropped passes and fumbles under the high ball, it would be hard to disagree.

A highly professional group is hardly going to forget how to catch overnight, and Hansen believed the players' own pride would prevent another poor performance in the covered conditions of Forsyth Barr Stadium.

"This week we've trained well, there's a lot more intensity and purpose about what we've done, and the guys themselves are very disappointed in the way they played.

"We shouldn't lose sight of the fact that we did manage to win the test but, at the same time, they're very proud people who want to play a quality of game that we can all proud of. Last week we weren't proud of our performance."

Dagg is the only man without a chance to redeem himself, sidelined by a patella tendon issue he has struggled with for some time. Hansen said Dagg would likely miss the third test in Hamilton, with Highlanders wing Patrick Osborne currently providing cover in the camp.

"[Dagg's] has it for a while and it's not getting any better. It's really affecting his kicking game and his ability to jump in the air, so we'll see how he is next week. But it's not something that's going to come right in a week."

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Kieran Read, on the other hand, is a good chance to return for the final encounter, having shaken off his concussion problems but still short of match fitness. The series may be in the bag by that point but, as much as the All Blacks are looking for an enhanced effort this weekend, Hansen knows England will also be a better side.

"There's not too many times All Black teams play poorly and don't respond in some fashion. But don't forget we're playing a very good side and they'll respond and improve, hence why I think it's going to be another really good battle on Saturday night."

- APNZ

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