Hansen expects more of same from English

MARC HINTON AND TOBY ROBSON
Last updated 15:18 08/06/2014
DANIEL GALVIN/stuff.co.nz

Steven Hansen, Stuart Lancaster and Aaron Cruden talk about Cruden's tap.

WEARY: All Blacks coach Steve Hansen is expecting the test series against England to be
WEARY: All Blacks coach Steve Hansen is expecting the test series against England to be "special" after a tight first match in Auckland last night.

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All Blacks coach Steve Hansen is expecting more of the same from England in Dunedin next week as what he is tagging a "special test series" plays out.

After requiring a late try by Conrad Smith to break a 15-15 deadlock and scrape out a 20-15 victory at Eden Park on Saturday night, Hansen was full of admiration for the challenge provided by Stuart Lancaster's vastly improved England outfit.

"I think we're all on the same page now that England aren't a bad side - I've been trying to tell you that," said Hansen after an intense but error-ridden opening test in front of a sellout crowd of 47,195 in Auckland.

"We've got a lot of work to do between now and next Saturday -- we know now this is going be one of those special test series."

Hansen said he didn't expect England's approach or plan to change too much, despite the fact Lancaster will have an additional 16 players to select from this week after the late arrival of his group from the Premiership final.

"They won't change how they play. Their game-plan may vary one or two degrees but basically we'll get what we got tonight, with maybe some different faces or fresher faces.

"The issue with test rugby particularly in this country when you're in the middle of a competition, there's such a short period of time to get everybody gelled together. If we start panicking too much about what England do and change everything we're doing we'll recreate what we had this week which is a lot of learning and clutter."

Hansen was probably being generous when he rated his team's performance at around 70 percent. There was far too much dropped high ball, spilled passes, missed tackles and general sloppiness to approach that mark. The scrum was also under a lot of pressure throughout.

He admitted the amount of dropped ball off kicks was one of the major concerns heading into the second test.

"When you see Ben Smith and Israel Dagg do it, and they're two of the best people in the world at it, it might have been one of those nights. We'll have a good look at the tapes, and won't panic. We'll work on the things we need to work on, and come back really excited about what's going to be a great challenge in this three-match series."

Hansen also shrugged off any suggestions the All Blacks "got out of jail" when Aaron Cruden took a tap from a very kickable penalty in the 76th minute, and then had to face an anxious moment or two before Conrad Smith eventually scored the match-winner from a scrum reset.

"You had two sides who were hammer and tong, hammer and tong, and I guess Crudes did something different and that changed the game. You don't get out of jail by doing something different if it's the right thing to do.

"He chose to change the game up and we managed to put enough pressure on to create a try. Either side could win the game, but I don't think either side lost it. One team won it when one person made a decision to change how we were playing in a vital moment.

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"That's what rugby is about -- having people brave enough to do that."

Skipper Richie McCaw put his team's off-key performance down to rust and the presence of a very competitive opponent.

"I thought in the first half we were a bit rusty. I said to the boys during the week test footy is a step up in intensity and pace, and I felt we were just half a yard off it in the first half.

"That second half we started to get into the game and build a bit of pressure. We got there in the end but we need to be a lot better going into the second test because you expect England for the same reasons to be better."

McCaw also said England's staunch competitiveness had been exactly what he had expected.

"It was pretty combative round the contact area with and without the ball. It was pretty physical which we expected. It's easy to expect but it's not until you get into it you're really reminded what test footy is all about.

"It's always the way every year in those first few minutes: It's here we are in test footy."

It's now all about the responses from both teams as they head to Dunedin to do it all again in a week's time. The All Blacks will hope to welcome back No 8 Kieran Read and wing Julian Savea from injury.

All Blacks player ratings out of 10

Israel Dagg 5
Had some decent moments in attack, but several uncharacteristic handling errors included a spilt pass, a completely missed high ball.

Ben Smith 6
Great hands to put Conrad Smith over for the crucial late try and looked good running in the middle of the park. Didn’t get many opportunities to counter attack and spilled one high ball.

Conrad Smith 7
Defensively strong as he tried to corral big opposite Manu Tuilagi and astute to position himself wide for the match winning try. One of the few All Blacks backs with real energy on the night.

Ma'a Nonu 5
Heavily marked by a borderline offside England backline. A poor kick out on the full and a wobbly old pass that Dagg spilled before being subbed. Has played better.

Cory Jane 5
Kicked away an early touch and barely saw the ball thereafter. Wasn’t a game for wings, but probably could have got more involved.

Aaron Cruden 6
Took a huge gamble with his quick tap and won. Defended well, but option taking was rusty. Missed a huge overlap early when he turned the ball inside and some of his kicks were a tad aimless.

Aaron Smith 7
Nipped away and did his best to get the attack going on a difficult night. Like Cruden he didn’t quite nail his kicking game.

Jerome Kaino 7
Made a big impact defensively all night and carried strongly in the second half. Good pace to get close to scoring only to knock on with the try line beckoning.

Richie McCaw 6
Nothing flashy, but a workman like performance in defence was important to the overall cause.

Liam Messam 5
Started reasonably well and defended strongly but seemed to fade into the back ground a little and was absent when Ben Morgan broke down the blind from a defensive scrum.

Sam Whitelock 6
Looks a little jaded after a huge season. Chugged away, but not with his usual niggly impact on proceedings.

Brodie Retallick 7
The usual workrate was there and a couple of huge plays in the second half when he grabbed back an All Black kick off, then bolted up field from a ruck to earn a penalty and a yellow card to England wing Marland Yarde.

Owen Franks 7
The scrum was a tad shaky, but the tighthead’s defence was rock solid. Some crunching hits while he was on the field and must have had a high tackle count.

Dane Coles 6
Ripped around with plenty of intent, but like the rest of the pack lacked real impact. Lineout throwing was largely sound other than one over throw.

Tony Woodcock 5
Didn’t really feature strongly in a match when the scrum was inconsistent throughout.

Also:

Beauden Barrett
Dropped his first high ball and didn’t get too many opportunities after that.

Malakai Fekitoa
Did nothing wrong on debut. Made his tackles and carried well a couple of times. Good start for a guy who played out of position in a pressure situation.

Charlie Faumuina
Part of an inconsistent scrum, but toiled well around the park.

Victor Vito
Added some spark. Playing some good rugby right now.

Keven Mealamu
Solid influence. Grabbed a turnover that won a penalty and tackled strongly.

Wyatt Crockett
Featured strongly around the park and added some energy off the bench. Reckoned he scored a try, but the TMO disagreed.

TJ Perenara
Finally off the mark in test rugby. A late kick out on the full put the All Blacks under pressure, but the rest of his game was solid.

- Stuff

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