Hansen happy with All Blacks' performance
If Steve Hansen had some harsh words for his All Blacks in the wake of their stuttering performance against Argentina, he must have saved them for behind closed doors.
When the All Blacks coach faced the media immediately after the most unconvincing of 21-5 victories over the Pumas - his side's third straight of the Rugby Championship - he was largely upbeat over an effort that was only sealed with two tries in the final quarter of an hour.
Hansen blamed the wild weather for much of the inaccuracy, even though he and his senior players had promised the area of execution would be addressed.
He also paid tribute to the efforts of an Argentina outfit he described as one of the best defensive sides in the game.
He praised a vastly improved second-half effort, where the All Blacks were able to turn a nervous 6-5 advantage into a flattering 21-5 victory, and he felt the combativeness of his pack was an encouraging sign ahead of next Saturday night's clash against the Springboks in Dunedin.
"It was a difficult night to talk about improving your execution when you've got wind and rain that has a major effect on your skillset," said Hansen, taking a little umbrage at suggestions his men hadn't delivered.
"In our first half we tried to play way too much rugby for the conditions. We tried to move the ball at times we should have held on to it.
"Our ball security wasn't that great. But part of that was the intensity the Argentineans brought. They're a welcome addition to this competition. In years to come we're going to look back on this first year and say this is the beginning of something new.
"They're only going to get better and better and they're a very good side at the moment. They're probably one of the best defensive teams in the world."
But things got better from an All Black perspective in the second half, reckoned Hansen.
"We executed pretty good and our ball security was a lot better. We ran better lines and were more effective in the cleanout and therefore put more pressure on Argentina with the speed of our attack, and were possibly unlucky not to score another couple of tries."
Hansen felt his bench players helped turn the tide as they entered the fray over the second 40, and he had some special praise in particular for halfback Piri Weepu and loose forward Liam Messam.
"Piri was right up there. He played smart, his kicking game was good and he organised well. The last 30 minutes we totally controlled it and played in the right half. That had a lot to do with what the bench players were doing."
He also described Messam's performance as "commanding" and said he was now unequivocally the top No 6 in the side.
Overall Hansen felt his forwards' effort was encouraging seven days out from their date with the Springboks, even if he did admit to a couple of concerns at scrum time.
"We've got a forward pack that we can be proud of," he added.
"We've just got to keep growing their ability to play the game. We can certainly be confident they can go to Dunedin and provide quality ball for what is a pretty exciting backline."
Hansen, though, did bristle when asked if there "shades of Graham" about the Pumas' defensive effort - in reference to the mentoring of former All Blacks coach Sir Graham Henry.
"I didn't see Graham out there at all," said Hansen.
"Argentina have been a very good defensive side for a long time. Their systems are very good, and they've had those systems for a long time.
"We've talked a lot about Graham but the people who should be getting credit are the coaches that are there now.
"Santiago [Phelan] has done a great job with this team, not only this year. He's a very clever man and clearly he's got some good staff working with him."
Skipper Richie McCaw said he felt his side took the conditions out of the contest in the second half by playing a smarter, more accurate game.
"They had a lot of intensity in the first half and we weren't as secure as would have liked. They are a good defensive team, but as the game wore on we started to get the ball in the right spots and created some chances.
"We played most of the second half at the right end of the field and that pressure had to tell at some time. We had to stay composed so we could make them pay."