What lessons will Hansen learn from Irish?
OPINION: What lessons will Steve Hansen absorb before taking his enforced hiatus?
The new All Blacks boss will stand down from active duty when Super Rugby resurfaces next week and will not be sighted until his team confronts the Wallabies on August 18.
Two wins from two tests, and they were vastly conflicting performances, have been the All Blacks' lot since Hansen took over; the first so clinical it threatened to blow Ireland's tour clean off its tracks and the second so unconvincing it almost resulted in him becoming the first All Blacks coach to lose to the visitors in 105 years.
A near-miss, maybe but Hansen was far from downcast. Learn from this and we will benefit, he emphasised. His notebook wouldn't have lacked for notes.
Complacency almost proved fatal. An All Blacks team doesn't vanquish an opponent 42-10 and then squeeze home 22-19 against the same mob a week later without some sort of switch in attitude.
One of the first assignments would have been to review the buildup to the Christchurch test.
What sort of vibes and game plans did Hansen and his assistants issue the players? Did they subconsciously get sucked into the belief – like the rest of us – Ireland were a rabble unable to improve on their first-test fizzer in Auckland?
When selecting this squad the new boss took a bold swerve into some controversial territory.
He sacked the in-form and universally popular halfback Andy Ellis for Piri Weepu and rewarded lock Ali Williams, despite his lack of form with the Blues, with another couple of caps off the bench.
Williams is a unique character. Earlier in the season he publicly admitted his form was "s..." but recently pronounced recent criticism was unwarranted because his form was heading skywards.
When Hansen announced after the second test he had sent the veteran Williams off for surgery he noted there was a desire to fix the second rower's dodgy knee ahead of the new Rugby Championship. Williams, it seems, remains a chance to play for the All Blacks again.
This is despite his brain snap gifting Ireland a crucial penalty last weekend and being marched 10m a few seconds later for gobbing off.
Weepu has not been involved in such sideshows during his cameos but Ellis' allies still feel miffed by his absence. Like Ellis, Weepu is valued for remaining calm under pressure but it is questionable whether he has added more value than the fitter Crusaders' No9.
It is in Weepu's favour that the 26-man All Blacks squad for the new Rugby Championship (which now includes Argentina) will not be announced until early August. He has additional time to improve his fitness.
Hansen's report cards on his rookies will contain a combination of ticks and crosses. Halfback Aaron Smith's swift pass and low-error rate should earn him a return ticket to the black jersey in August.
Julian Savea's future may not be so certain. Despite his hat-trick of tries at Eden Park he struggled in the second test where he was exposed under the high ball and produced a low workrate.
His case is compromised by versatile World Cup wings Cory Jane and Richard Kahui aiming to be fit ahead of the Super playoffs, while Zac Guildford, Hosea Gear and Ben Smith are also fighting for survival.
- © Fairfax NZ News
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