New Zealand
All Blacks content after 'ugly' season
November 23, 2014
Wales 16-34 New Zealand (Australia only)

Perfect one year, ugly the next. Yet Steve Hansen is hardly reacting like the coach of an All Blacks team that, on results alone, have taken a step backwards in 2014.

After winning 14 Tests from 14 last year, Hansen's men can reflect on a season that featured a 27-25 loss to the Springboks in Johannesburg, a 12-12 draw with the Wallabies in Sydney, and 12 wins including the 34-16 defeat of Wales in Cardiff, where their escape act was typical of their efforts through the campaign as they struggled through the first half and sealed victory only late in the game.

Hansen wasn't going to quibble, voicing satisfaction at what they have achieved, not long after learning his side had swept World Rugby's team, coach and player of the year awards.

"It's been a great year for us," Hansen said. "We've had to earn the right to win some games and we had to earn the right to draw one that we shouldn't have even drawn. What we've found is ways to win ugly or draw ugly, which is a lot better than a loss - not much, but better."

Hansen says Wales' furious challenge will hold New Zealand in good stead when his players almost certainly return to Cardiff for a 2015 Rugby World Cup quarter-final. Whether they are first or second in what is a relatively weak pool, the All Blacks will play a quarter-final at Millennium Stadium - most likely against France or Ireland - and Hansen expects that game to mirror the intensity experienced on Saturday.

"It was perfect for us because that's what we'll get in a quarter-final, be it France or Ireland," he said. "It's going to be a massive atmosphere, a physical, hard game to work our way through."

Richie McCaw agreed that Wales' defence had been immense before their tackling workload ultimately counted against them as they conceded three tries in the final 10 minutes.

"They got up in our face and we didn't deal with it as well as we would have liked," McCaw said, noting that patience was always going to be rewarded in the dying minutes if the All Blacks stuck with their methods after a shaky start. "But you've got to believe that it's not all going to go your way in that 80 minutes. Sometimes you're just hanging on, but a game never goes against you the whole time."

© AAP

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