Steve Hansen was at Twickenham last weekend but was he worried by what he saw?
The New Zealand coach Steve Hansen was in the stands at Twickenham on Saturday watching England’s 21-10 win over Ireland and wouldn’t you like to have a penny for his thoughts on the game?
Hansen has a series against the British & Irish Lions next year to prepare his All Blacks for and it is doubtful that anything he has seen so far in this Six Nations has changed the perception of rugby up here from what it was over a decade ago for some of his predecessors.
The Lions were tweeting about memorable pre-match speeches last week and included in the montage was the one delivered by Lawrence Dallaglio in 2005 before the game against New Zealand Maori.
Dallaglio recounted a talk given by Graham Henry, coach on the 2001 trip to Australia, when the Kiwi told his squad that in that neck of the woods they didn’t think British players were good enough, fit enough, skilful enough or strong enough. Henry then apparently delivered the killer line ‘I should know, because I am one of them’. Ouch.
Dallaglio was part of the one northern hemisphere team that has really taken it to the boys down under in recent years – England, under Clive Woodward, won every game home and away against southern hemisphere opposition between Bloemfontein in 2000 and Sydney in 2003. No one has come close to matching that.
But anyone who has watched the opening exchanges in Super Rugby and the Six Nations will probably have a rough idea what Hansen thinks about rugby up here these days. And it won’t be a million miles away from Henry’s assessment.
The best attacking display of last weekend, this side of the equator, was provided by Wasps against Harlequins on Sunday, which is all well and good for the Premiership, but the main threats were blokes capped by New Zealand and Tonga and a fly-half who might have been an All Black if he had been born in another era.
But what would Hansen have put in his little book from what he saw from England?
A lack of discipline, with yellow cards and a high penalty count, as well as butchering, according to Eddie Jones, 10 to 15 points in the first half were all on display.
Decent scrum, line-out improved, after a wobble against Italy, and a couple of decent finishes from Anthony Watson and Mike Brown, then the usual work in progress stuff from the coaching staff.
Jones broke his media silence on Wednesday to talk to the official RFU website, but no-one else, and said: “The reason I took this job was because I believed the players were talented enough to be the best in the world and having coached them for five weeks now that only reinforces that view.” Hansen would not have put many on show at Twickenham in his hand luggage for his flight home though.
The All Blacks would have been out of sight at the break if they had been playing against the Irish and England will not get away with spurning opportunities when Wales and their Shaun Edwards-inspired defence come to town next week.
The match between England and Wales will probably decide the Six Nations, but it has got to do more than that – it has got to show what European rugby can deliver more after some pretty turgid stuff so far. The Six Nations needs a game that will make the southern hemisphere sit up and take notice.
There could be the return, at some stage, of the lesser-spotted Manu Tuilagi, one of the rarely seen beasts of the rugby jungle and although Tuilagi, off the bench, against Jamie Roberts for 20 minutes might not worry the All Blacks it will be worth watching even Hansen might feel he doesn’t need to.
There is a Triple Crown on the line for England next weekend at Twickenham. Nice bit of kit to put on the shelf at the RFU offices but it won’t amount to a hill of beans down Auckland way. The real stuff for England, Grand Slam or no Grand Slam, will start in Australia in June.