Steve Hansen tells team shape up or ship out

MARC HINTON IN DUNEDIN
Last updated 12:18 12/06/2014
Steve Hansen
Getty
BRUTALLY HONEST: All Blacks coach Steve Hansen expects more from his charges this Saturday night.

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It was All Blacks coach Steve Hansen at his acerbic best.

If he had dropped everyone who had a bad game last week in Auckland, he said, he would not have a team left to take the field for Saturday night's second test against England.

That was the brutal honesty with which Hansen today explained his decision to make just one injury-enforced change to the All Blacks lineup for the rematch against coach Stuart Lancaster's fast-improving tourists.

It contrasted sharply with the five new faces in a revamped England starting team.

A sellout crowd of 28,500 will pack Dunedin's roofed Forsyth Barr Stadium on Saturday, and Hansen all but promised a vastly improved performance from his men, who have collectively been put on notice.

More of the same this week and heads will roll.

It is a great move by Hansen to resist the urge to make changes, with Israel Dagg's knee injury - he is likely to also miss the third test next week in Hamilton - allowing a fit-again Julian Savea to slot back in on the left wing, Cory Jane to flip back to his preferred right side and local hero Ben Smith to have his first test start in his specialist position of fullback.

A clear-headed Kieran Read is given another week to build fitness, with a promise he will play in Hamilton, provided there are no further setbacks.

Jerome Kaino will earn his 50th cap, retained at No 8 after a standout display in Auckland.

Other than that, it's all hands back on deck with a pretty simple message from a coach who described the bumbling 20-15 win at Eden Park as the poorest execution of skills he had seen in his time.

That sort of frank assessment has been prevalent in the All Blacks since they trudged off the field last Saturday night with a clear awareness they had dodged a bullet.

"If you turn around and say so and so shouldn't play because he played badly, we wouldn't have anyone on the park - that's how bad the performance was," Hansen said.

"We know some of the reasons we played poorly, and one of them was a lack of preparation time, so there's no point recreating that whole thing again by putting new faces in.

"It's about us working hard on our skill sets, understanding how we want to play and going out and delivering that.

"The group has faith in what we're trying to do; it's just a matter of getting it right on the night."

Hansen said the chief work for the week was on the basic skills that so deserted his team at Eden Park. Handling errors, poor transfers and ineffective tackles were the most glaring shortcomings.

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"Our skill sets were very poor - probably the poorest they've ever been," Hansen said.

"This week we've trained well. There's a lot more intensity and purpose about what we've done.

"The guys were very disappointed with the way they played.

"We shouldn't lose sight of the fact we did win the test, but at the same time they're very proud people who want to play a game we can all be proud of, and last week we weren't proud of our performance."

This sets up brilliantly Saturday's second instalment of what could be a rivalry that endures all the way to next year's World Cup final (sure, the Boks will have something to say about that).

England now believe they can claim another All Black scalp. The world champions are determined to show last week was an aberration, not the precursor to disintegration.

"There is an expectation of where the standards should be, and if they're not there they get told about it," Hansen said.

"There are not too many times All Black teams play poorly and don't respond in some fashion, but don't forget we're playing a very good side and they'll respond as well, and they'll improve."

Hansen said Dagg would almost certainly miss the third test in Hamilton as he allows a sore patella tendon to heal, with Patrick Osborne set to remain with the squad.

On Read's continued omission, Hansen said: "He's fit enough from a concussion point of view to pick, but we don't feel like we can put him out there with the amount of training he's done. So we're using this week to get him right and we'll put him in next week."

Hansen said that last week showed Jane was a right wing, definitely not a left one.

"He was just all at sea. You didn't see him get up for the high ball, and he wasn't comfortable jumping off his left leg."

And no, he didn't consider starting Beauden Barrett ahead of Aaron Cruden.

On England's decision to move the blockbusting Manu Tuilagi from centre to the wing as Lancaster brought in five new faces to his starting side, Hansen said: "He's a handful wherever he's going to play. He could play hooker and he'd be a handful when he carries.

"On the wing, he's going to have to work. Wing is a totally different position than centre in that he can go wherever he wants to go, but at the same time he's got to have the energy to do that."

The All Blacks have been challenged, and players who came up well short of the mark are bristling to prove they are better than what they showed at Eden Park.

England have been freshened and are just as desperate to shake the tag of gallant losers and keep the series alive heading to Hamilton.

Should be fun.

All Blacks: Ben Smith, Cory Jane, Conrad Smith, Ma'a Nonu, Julian Savea, Aaron Cruden, Aaron Smith, Jerome Kaino, Richie McCaw (captain), Liam Messam, Sam Whitelock, Brodie Retallick, Owen Franks, Dane Coles, Tony Woodcock. Reserves: Keven Mealamu, Wyatt Crockett, Charlie Faumuina, Patrick Tuipulotu, Victor Vito, TJ Perenara, Beauden Barrett, Malakai Fekitoa.

- Stuff

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