New Zealand rugby:
Hansen opens up on All Blacks
June 13, 2013
All Blacks coach Steve Hansen discussed a range of issues in a comprehensive press conference © Getty Images
All Blacks coach Steve Hansen said his decision to make no changes to the side for Saturday's second Test, New Zealand's 500th Test match, was all down to the need for consistency at the start of an international season.
He said the selectors felt they could have brought prop Tony Woodcock into the side but Wyatt Crockett had played well so he deserved to get the start. He said there was no pre-determination of how to use the bench. It was something more often decided as the game unfolded. In a wide-ranging pre-Test press conference Hansen opened up on several matters at the core of the side.
On the kicking game in the first Test and what might be expected in the second: He felt the All Blacks over-kicked the ball, placement-wise, during the first Test which had made it difficult to contest the kicks. There would be improvement there, he said.
"We'll seek better areas, I think there's a lot of space in behind them and to be able to kick it there someone has got to see it, it's about organising the looking," he said.
On the choice of Israel Dagg at fullback in spite of a lack of form with the Crusaders: He said Dagg was "the best high-ball catcher in world rugby from a fullback point of view".
"That's one of the skill sets you need in the back three. Cory Jane is injured and he's probably the best wing three-quarter high-ball catcher so we'd be stupid to lose that skill component.
"I think Izzy's [Dagg] playing as well as he did last year, minus those magic touches. It doesn't matter who you are, you can't be magic all the time.
"What we want from Israel is his core job and that job done well. And he's doing that. He did that well last week. If you go through the game his core job was done very, very well. The magic from him will come in the moment when he is able to do that and the French didn't give him any.
"If you [the French] do your research you see, 'he catches it, we need to knock him over' and that's what they did," he said.
On improving the breakdown situation: "Our ball carrier is our key to the breakdown. If he's going to T-bone, he's going to lose the collision. The tackler is going to dominate and be available to stay on his feet and get an early shot. So the first thing is we have got to do is stress the tackler.
"If we stress the tackler, we go forward and we should be coming on to a breakdown that's in our favour so that should make a change," he said. "So it will be about the tackler staying on his feet a bit longer and looking after the ball."
One the French game plan: Hansen said the French had played to a pretty simple plan in the first Test.
"They used their mid-fielders to cart the ball up from set play. They used their big forwards to come around, pick-and-go and come round the corner and, occasionally, they'd throw a switch in. And then from broken play they wanted to move the ball. And they continued that game plan against the Blues and I should imagine they will continue it on Saturday night."
On expectations of the All Blacks in Christchurch: Hansen said the management hadn't expected the first Test to be perfect, but what they did expect to see from the second Test was an improvement. And then it would be a case of fine tuning after every game which was always the case. Tuesday's run this week had a different feel to him as players got into the detail of their work, after having tried the plan during the first Test.
"Once you get to that point then you can make some really good changes and get improvement," he said.
On Rene Ranger off the bench: "What we know about Rene is that he is a dynamo when he comes off the bench and that is what you want from your bench players. And you want world-class substitutions. He touched the ball twice last week yet everyone is talking about how great he was so that tells you what an impact he had. He didn't show a lot of finesse when he knocked the bloke out, he just ran hard. But, again, we were captured by that because he came out with intent and purpose and lots of energy. If you wrote a job description for a substitute all those words would be in it. He did a really good job and we'll be expecting him and others to that again this week.
"We were well aware of his contractual situation but we have always said, since day one, that if someone is playing well enough and is here for more than just the one campaign we would consider them if they were playing better than everyone else. Now he's one of those guys, hence why we picked him."
Hansen said that French club Montpellier might be looking for a $300,000 payment if Ranger opts out of a contract and if that was the case then the decision on whether to go or stay may not be Ranger's to make.
"Rene knows what his job is and obviously he'd like to stay. And at some point he probably will, but it is all about the team first and individuals second. So at the moment, for the team, his role is to come off the bench and do that really well."
On flanker Sam Cane's first Test: "I thought he went pretty good. A really difficult job at the breakdown, because I don't our ball carriers did their job. He's played five Tests so he got 80 minutes of physicality that he's probably not used to. I think the French is probably the biggest Test match he's played so a lot of learning, a lot of excitement. He was pretty upbeat after the game about what had happened out there and things that he had learnt so I'd expect to see him grow and improve his performance like everyone else on Saturday."
On Tony Woodcock: His abscessed nose had summed up his unfortunate year.
"He's come back and played and had two or three games and got injured or, in this case, got a nose infection that put him in hospital for two days. Is it a chance for him to start? Yeah it is, but what he is going to need is a continual roll on of being able to perform and if we can get four, five, six, seven, eight games in a row into him I think we'll see the real Tony Woodcock. [For] front rowers it is difficult you know. You have to play at least three games before it is comfortable at scrum time. We're putting a lot of work into him and the others that aren't starting so maybe we'd get away with two [games] but I'm expecting Woody to flourish in this environment. He always has, he's played well and he has been one of the leading loose-head props in world rugby. And he's still got plenty of miles in him."
On new scrummaging laws: He supported the idea of stopping the clock while scrums went through re-sets, but if new laws worked well that might not be necessary.
"When this new law comes in it is all about taking away the impact from a safety point of view which is great. A lot of force goes through both sets of front rows but I think also it will steady the ship a bit and we'll see some improved statistics from a scrummaging set-piece point of view." The effects of the changes couldn't be measured until they were tested in the white hot atmosphere of match play. "But what we do know is it is going to take a lot of the high impact out of the spines of the people in the front row so that's got to be good."
On Julian Savea's off-field problems and whether they were affecting his play: "It put a wee comma in his season. Up until then he was playing outstanding but it is a lot for young person, even an older person, to be able to handle. It's an unfortunate incident, it's not one that he's proud of or any of us are, but all we can do is support him and help him deal with that process. There's a child involved as well which makes it even more complicated. He's working his way through that, as are all parties and I'm sure we'll see the real Julian going forward which is all we want."
Hansen didn't know if it was playing on Savea's mind but said: "If it was me, or you, it would be playing on our mind wouldn't it? It's just human nature that you just don't let it go till everything is tidied up. I think the public have possibly moved on. The court process is moving through what it needs to do but Julian and the parties involved they've still got a bit of work to tidy up. There's a child involved, it just doesn't go away. It's got to be dealt with, in the right way, so the little child is well looked after and feels loved by everybody. And they're doing that. If it was me it would be somewhere in my mind but what we need Julian to be able to do is take that hat off and put his rugby one on when it is time to play rugby, as we do every athlete. But it's tough and that is a consequence of making a mistake isn't it? You've got to deal with it.
"The key thing with Julian at the moment is that he's just got to get out on the park and learn how to get the focus right for what he's trying to do and he's done that really well this week."
On not releasing Blues players during the week: There had never been any thought of releasing the players, he said.
"It sounds really good but when you understand that we're preparing for a Test match then we let four or five players go, how does that help us prepare? It doesn't, and we're struggling with preparation time as it is. When you look at the Blues boys, Francis [Saili], Stevie [Luatua] and Charlie [Piutau], they're at a stage in their career that they need to be here and find out what being an All Black is like. How to train like an All Black, how to prepare like an All Black so it is not going to do them any good coming in and out and playing other games so that's why we didn't send them back."