His comments may be taken as a direct insult or a plan to make England play a certain way but Steve Hansen's side look into their stride in several departments, writes Alan Dymock in Hamilton.
More often than not in international rugby, coaches and players face down cameras and talk in boring platitudes and in general terms about how hard opposition teams play. Sometimes, though, a grenade is thrown in.
At the All Blacks team announcement for Saturday’s Test against England in Hamilton, Steve Hansen threw one such grenade in amongst all the niceties, claiming that England – as well coached as they are – got hung up on playing running rugby and were bettered.
“They (England) are in a bit of a quandary really, because they took us on in Dunedin playing a game of real pace and worked out they couldn’t,” Hansen said on the visitors’ style for Test three. “So what are they going to do now? I’ve seen Stuart (Lancaster) mention in the paper that maybe they shouldn’t play too much rugby down their end, so maybe they’re going to kick a wee bit more. But they will have a good plan because they are good coaches, so we’ve just got to make sure we’ve got a good one to counter it.”
Hansen said this after introducing Malakai Fekitoa as a starting outside centre for Saturday, while also revealing that Kieran Read is back from concussion to play at No 8, meaning that Jerome Kaino switches to six and an out-of-sorts Liam Messam drops to the bench.
“Two days ago Read asked me ‘what am I going to hear when you read the team out?’” Hansen revealed. “I said ‘K. Read, Canterbury, No 8’ and he just cracked a big smile and since then he’s trained fantastically on Tuesday and has been bouncing around the hotel.
“He’s excited. We know he’s not conditioned enough to go 80 (minutes) so we wont ask him to do that.”
Hansen also said that “We won’t be changing the system too much because Malakai and Conrad (Smith) are different types of players,” and that because of this continuity, the coach was not prepared to swap stand-offs, instead opting to have Aaron Cruden starting and Beauden Barrett coming off the bench.
It comes as no surprise that Hansen is a former policeman, such is his ability to flit from good cop to bad – well not bad, perhaps surly fits better. But he thankfully has mischief in him and he displayed this while announcing his team.
In the UK, we are used to such lines dropped in by Warren Gatland every so often. Perhaps the design wass to try and get England to do the same again; perhaps New Zealand want to face ten-man rugby. Either way, Hansen has raised a brief smile on before an enormous game, which could mean a record for consecutive Test wins for the All Blacks (17) or a fillip for an England side desperate for something to show from their tour.
All Blacks team to face England: Ben Smith, Cory Jane, Malakai Fekitoa, Ma’a Nonu, Julian Savea, Aaron Cruden, Aaron Smith, Tony Woodcock, Dane Coles, Owen Franks, Brodie Retallick, Sam Whitelock, Jerome Kaino, Richie McCaw (c), Kieran Read.
All Black subs: Keven Mealamu, Wyatt Crockett, Charlie Faumuina, Patrick Tuipulotu, Liam Messam, TJ Perenara, Beauden Barrett, Ryan Crotty.