Patrick McKendry is a rugby writer for the Herald.

Patrick McKendry: Hansen steering clear of heated debate

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As Michael Cheika and Eddie Jones continue their mind-games as the respective coaches of Australia and England, which is featuring Cheika's I-won't-indulge-in-that-but-actually-I-just-can't-help-myself descent into Jones' trap, All Blacks coach Steve Hansen is steadfastly refusing to hand Wales counterpart Warren Gatland any ammunition.

His performance in Wellington yesterday was a masterclass in avoiding anything approaching controversy as far as Wales and Gatland are concerned. That's not to say he wasn't honest and open, because he certainly was about wing Julian Savea and why he left him out of the squad for the second test tomorrow, but he just doesn't appear to feel like prodding a wounded bear when there is no need to.

And despite Hansen's reluctance to engage, it still makes for an occasionally entertaining performance.

Hansen was asked: "What makes you think [Wales] will be motivated by [Tuesday's loss to the Chiefs] rather than have their confidence dented?"

He replied: "How would you feel if you were them?"

"P ... ed off," was the reply.

"Yeah, usually that gets you motivated. You've answered that in one. Well done."

Another question, this time from a Wales reporter: "Were you surprised by the margin of defeat against the Chiefs?"

Hansen's reply: "I think everybody was, including you, I'd say."

And another query: "Would you say [test centre] Jamie Roberts benefited from playing against the Chiefs?"

The reply: "I'm not sure about that, you'll have to ask Warren."

All of which is a world away from what's going on across the Tasman as England coach Jones, an Australian, continues to fire barbs at Wallabies counterpart Cheika despite, or perhaps because of, his being one test up in the series. It is an off-the-field scrap adding real edge to an already compelling series.

Jones, who complained on arrival that he was given extra scrutiny at Customs due to his new job, has called Cheika "deceptive", picked his team for him, suggested Cheika was fabricating David Pocock's injury and added the coach would be worried about his team's set piece and physicality ahead of tomorrow's second test in Melbourne.

Cheika has said he wouldn't follow suit but is clearly rattled. "I think that's only short-term motivation," Cheika said.

"Obviously there'd be things said about us from the sidelines or whatever but we want to build some substance to be a consistent team for the long haul."

Hansen has used media manipulation in the past. Most memorable was his needling of Wallabies coach Ewen McKenzie ahead of a Bledisloe Cup test in Sydney in 2014 when Kurtley Beale was selected ahead of Bernard Foley, who had only just kicked his Waratahs team to a Super Rugby final victory over the Crusaders.

"I was dumbfounded by it a wee bit initially, the selection," Hansen said at the time.
"I thought 'why would he do that' and I came to the conclusion that maybe Ewen doesn't trust him [Foley] to do what he wants against us. Or if you really think about it, the other guy [Beale] is under contract and league are chasing him so you might start to think maybe the ARU has told him he's got to pick him."

- NZ Herald

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Patrick McKendry is a rugby writer for the Herald.

Rugby writer Patrick McKendry began his journalism career 20 years ago and has worked in newspapers in New Zealand and the United Kingdom. He worked in a communications role on his return here before joining APN before the 2011 World Cup.

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