All Blacks coach Steve Hansen has taken a glass half full approach to his appraisal of a rusty but winning start to the Rugby Championship in Sydney last night.
Hansen identified several areas that need to improve after a 27-19 win over the Wallabies that became uncomfortably close in the final minutes.
Some sloppy delivery from the lineout, handling errors, and being too slow to adapt to referee Alain Roland's interpretations at the breakdown were among the work-ons ahead of the second Bledisloe Cup match in Auckland next week.
But overall, Hansen was pleased to get a win in front of 76,877 fans which included tries to fullback Israel Dagg and wing Cory Jane and five Dan Carter penalties.
"Probably not the most perfect game in the world, but we had two sides coming off the breaks that we've had and playing at the intensity we are playing you are going to get errors," Hansen said after the match.
"We're pleased to get that win away from home and even more pleased to make sure they [Australia] didn't get a point as far as the championship goes. And I thought we had some really good displays from our guys."
That said, the All Blacks failed to put Australia away after building an 18-3 lead after half an hour, letting the home side close to 18-13 early in the second half and then to 24-19 until Carter's final penalty on the stroke of fulltime.
Linebreaks from Ma'a Nonu, Aaron Smith, Dagg and Liam Messam all went begging through errant passes or poor handling, and a kick-off late in the match was not taken.
Messam was twice dragged into touch when he should have kept the ball alive and there were too many penalties at the breakdown.
But Hansen said it was unrealistic for expectations to be too high after a truncated build up.
"There were a lot of [missed] opportunities and I think Australia had a couple too. The reason you're not taking it is because you are rusty," he said.
"It's about playing together and having that time together. We came off a six, seven day preparation, so sometimes you need a bit more time than that.
"[But] If someone had said to me we'll get three points for an away game we'd take it every time. The only thing you'd take is maybe a bonus point, but we haven't done too badly."
While he believed the All Blacks had held a "narrow" advantage up front and "dominated" the scrum, some of the work at the lineout had been sloppy.
"The sad part about our lineout was the delivery. We did the hard part, won the ball but were a bit wayward with the distribution to the halfback. That interferes with the flow of the back attack, so that's an area for us to improve on."
Hansen was particularly pleased his side's two tries, both scored from scrums and with the defence.
"Fozzie [backs coach Ian Foster] has been working really hard on our alignment from first phase attack and I think we saw the result of that from both tries," Hansen said.
"Good angled running, good timing of the pass. Both tries were great and that's played a big part of what we've been working on at this stage of the season.
"Our defence we've been working on and Aussie [McLean] has done a great job there. Our line speed was good and we worked hard on Will [Genia] not getting too many snipes around the edge, I think he got one, so we have to be pleased with that."
He expected the Wallabies to come back with a far better effort in Auckland.
"It will hurt them, no doubt about it. We've heard all week about how they were going to do this and do that and they'll be disappointed they didn't do this and do that," he said.
"[But] If we go home and think we've done the job already then it's a recipe for disaster."
The All Blacks only injury concern from the match is a rib injury to prop Tony Woodcock that saw him leave the field in the final stages.
Asked why he did not make more use of his reserves bench, Hansen said it had been "a bit remiss of the coaches in the box who were getting a bit excited and not looking after the bench properly."
- © Fairfax NZ News
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