Wynne Gray

Wynne Gray is a Herald columnist

All Blacks: Hansen seeking perfect blend of speed and flair

The All Blacks are determined to play a style of game only the fittest and most skilled would contemplate.

At times this season the All Blacks have produced rugby few teams could contemplate or execute.

It is both weighty and thrilling, though some observers will sniff and bore people about the growing giddiness of test rugby.

Let them sup their own sourness. It might not always come off, but there is a compelling attraction about the All Blacks if they click.

They are not the Harlem Globetrotters of world rugby but they are delivering a message about their enjoyment and how their skills are one of the many ways the sport can be played.

On a top day, France might emulate the All Black style. Even the Wallabies, if they retrieved all their men from the casualty ward and Robbie Deans released the handbrake, have a similar game in them. But not all the time; not as a planned strategic style.

There is no right way to play rugby. That is half its appeal. Teams have to adjust their plans according to their players and the conditions in which they play the sport.

Style is important but results are the final arbiter. Just ask Deans that as his beleaguered Wallabies creak and groan across Europe.

Tap into Rob Howley's mind and see what he wants from Wales against Samoa after four defeats on the bounce.

Hansen has a vision about the way his side should play with the type of player whose skills are honed during the Super rugby series. In his mind he has a wishlist about the All Blacks' performances at the 2015 World Cup in England. He does not know if his first season with the All Blacks would encourage other sides to emulate their style or change their methods.

The All Blacks have many naturally talented athletes who all work hard to be multi-skilled.

"We are an extremely aerobically fit side and to play at that pace and intensity is difficult, too. You have to ask yourself, have you got the athletes to do that?" said Hansen.

"Some of the things we are doing I guess people will copy because that is natural. Our job is to stay in front.

"We have not perfected our game, we have just started."

It was a slow process. They had only played 12 tests this year and it might take a few more seasons to nail it, but the All Black selectors had seen enough to know they should persevere with their ideas.

They wanted to have a side who used all 15 men and got some serious impact from the bench. They saw that as one of their strengths.

"Asking myself and ourselves when is the perfect time to be able to nail this, I don't think there is one," Hansen said.

It was more important to understand their aims and their players and to match that to performance.

The coaches had to be smart and patient to work out performance levels and demands. Nothing had deterred Hansen so far from his goal.

High-risk rugby did mean some errors, but that provoked questions.

"Were the errors the result of our gameplan or were they the result of us not nailing it properly and understanding and delivering it properly yet - I think it is the latter."

There are so many variables in rugby that affect plans. Rush and push defences drew different responses, momentum from the pack produced quality ball but at other times, like the second test against Ireland, that was "atrocious" and affected the All Black plans.

Lessons always came from difficult patches, just as players talked about picking up on their mistakes.

"We are confident that the basic type of game we want to play suits us. We are confident we have the athletes to play the game we want to play and we are confident we are fit enough to play at a pace that asks questions of other people," said Hansen.

Players had to learn how to motivate themselves even if they knew they would win. They had to work on improving every personal performance as well as being prompted by teams they feared.

The coaching staff had to be flexible, they had to learn from all sorts of scenarios.

"We work on a simple philosophy that Saturday is the day we have to have the petrol in the tank. So we work back from that and so far that has been a pretty good philosophy and the way to think."

Recovery had been as important as preparation this season.

Players could not avoid talk, pictures or headlines suggesting inevitable victories, but they had to ask themselves if they had prepared properly and planned for the unexpected.

Brisbane was a classic case of a lack of deep graft.

"We got something we did not expect coming at us and it became a bit of a problem for a while," Hansen mentioned. "That was through lack of mental preparation."

If players said they did not fear a side then it was important they use pride in their personal performance as motivation.

"Someone is always going to watch you play and it might be the last time you play," Hansen warned. "There is a responsibility to play well for the All Blacks and know that your time in the jersey is seen to be productive and actually improve it."

- NZ Herald

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