All Blacks' coach Steve Hansen says his players are not thugs and claims they would not intentionally injure an opponent.
While Hansen was coy about pre-empting Andrew Hore's punishment for the ugly swinging arm which left Welsh lock Bradley Davies hospitalised last night, it is clear the All Blacks expect their hooker to get a lengthy suspension.
"If there is an incident and if you've done it, you've done it. You've got to take accountability, ownership and responsibility for it," Hansen said today as the All Blacks departed Cardiff for the final week of their tour London.
"But what are the mitigating circumstances around that?"
The immediate outcry to Hore's act implied the All Blacks used thuggish, cowardly and disgraceful tactics. That perception in the northern hemisphere came to a head in 2010, after Keven Mealamu's head-butt on Lewis Moody.
"That's what happens every time we come up here. I think they think we're thugs or something but we don't play the game any different to anyone else," Hansen said.
"We don't go out there to do things intentionally."
Hansen stanchly defended the All Blacks' disciplinary record in the calendar year as he moved to add some perspective to the niggling issue that will surround his team this week.
"We've shown plenty of times over the last 12 months that we're a disciplined side. You only have to look at the incidents that have surrounded Richie where we've not jumped in and made it a big scene," Hansen said.
However, on the European tour that clean image and emphasis on discipline has been tarnished by Adam Thomson's minor stomping incident in Edinburgh and Hore's king hit on Davies in Cardiff.
"We pride ourselves on playing good rugby. Yeah we're physical and we don't take any backward steps and we don't expect our opposition to do that either," Hansen said.
Hore's likely absence means changes are certain for the final test of the season at Twickenham.
Mealamu has a history of problematic calf injuries and that could lead to a start for Dane Coles in just his fourth test.
The front-row could face further alterations with the All Blacks most capped prop Tony Woodcock carrying leg and hip complaints.
Wyatt Crockett and Ben Franks may be required to fill the void at loose-head.
Elsewhere, halfback Piri Weepu, loose-forward Victor Vito and lock Brodie Retallick are pushing hard for starting spots and wing Hosea Gear may also get a run with fatigue expected to play a large role in selections this week.
Other than the media storm awaiting Hore and the All Blacks, Hansen is expecting a determined English outfit on the back of two losses to the Wallabies and Springboks.
"They've just lost two in a row so they'll be pretty keen to go out and resurrect this autumn series by trying to knock us off," he said.
"They'll be physical and they appear to be wanting to use the ball a bit more which I think is great for the game."
- Fairfax Media
What NZ rugby job would you give Robbie Deans?Related story: (See story)