Hansen suggests politics behind Beale selection
All Blacks coach Steve Hansen has lobbed a tasty grenade right into the Wallaby camp by suggesting Kurtley Beale may have been picked at No 10 for Saturday's Bledisloe opener in Sydney because of political pressure.
The All Blacks coach was asked by Fairfax Media at today's pre-departure media conference about his thoughts on the Wallabies' shock selection of Beale at No 10, ahead of in-form Waratahs team-mate Bernard Foley, and he did not hold back on a response that's sure to ruffle a few feathers across the Tasman.
''I was a little dumbfounded by it initially,'' responded Hansen, firing his first shot across the bows of an Australian team he's never lost to since assuming the head coaching reins.
''I thought why would he (Ewen McKenzie) do that, and came to the conclusion that maybe Ewen doesn't trust [Bernard Foley] to be able to do what he wants against us, or if you really think about it the other guy is under contract and league are chasing him, so you might start thinking maybe the ARU have told him he's got to pick him.
''But it doesn't matter why he has, both of them are really good rugby players, and Kurtley is certainly a guy who loves to do things differently.
"He'll throw a lot of inside balls to runners, and we're going to have to make sure we look after that part of the park, particularly from second or third phase play. When guys are struggling to get into position he'll be dangerous.
''He's not as good a goalkicker as Foley, but I guess he'll bring Foley on late in the game and if they want a goalkicker they've got the right one on at the right end of the game.''
Hansen was then asked whether he would pick a player if he was told to by his union. ''No,'' was his steely response.
Then he was asked if he really thought McKenzie was put under pressure to pick Beale?
''I don't know. You'll have to ask him that question.''
But wasn't Hansen making that assertion?
''No, I'm making an assumption which is different than an assertion. I'm not saying that's what happened, I'm just sitting there pondering why wouldn't you play Foley when he's played there all year?
''The other guy has played seven tests at most in his whole career at first five so why would you change that? Being the people we are we go from one extreme to the other.
''I'm not saying that's exactly what happened, it's just a thought that came through my head and I'm sure it's come through a few other people's.''
Be sure of two things on this.
Hansen's comments will cause a real stir in the Australian camp, given the level of his, er, assumptions. It is sure to have struck a nerve.
And don't for a minute think that this is not a deliberate tactic.
Hansen may come across as a fairly straightforward character, but he's clever, cunning and has long ago learned to play the game of words in the leadup to a test.
The Wallaby camp will have noted what he said and may or may not react publicly. But deep down they'll be surprised, and maybe even upset, that he's decided to comment on a selection in this sort of a manner.
One thing is for sure. We now have ourselves a decent lead-in to this Bledisloe.