Sonny Bill ‘doesn’t know the rules’ - Hansen
Steve Hansen is clearly developing a tolerance for Sonny Bill Williams’ brain explosions – and at least this time his mercurial midfielder’s moment of madness did not cost the All Blacks a test match.
The All Blacks coach, who was also dealing with injuries to hooker Dane Coles (possibly knee) and skipper Kieran Read (mild groin strain) in the wake of a twopaced 38-18 victory over France here, produced a mild condemnation of Williams’ 47th-minute mindflip in their November test opener.
The 44-test dual Rugby World Cup-winner, who had played well in the opening half, somehow forgot he was playing rugby union, and not his ‘‘other’’ sport of rugby league, and batted a well-weighted crosskick dead from the ingoal area. In league that’s, as they say in these parts, de rigueur. In rugby it’s just deadheaded.
Williams was immediately sinbinned for what was deemed foul play ingoal, and upon review the French were also awarded a penalty try, which Hansen admitted, after receiving advice from his trusted sidekick, was a fair call. It also proved the catalyst for a storming French second-half comeback that turned a rout into a genuine contest.
Williams, of course, is no stranger to bad judgments in the heat of battle. He was sent off in the first half of the second test against the British and Irish Lions for a brainless shoulder charge to the head of Anthony Watson that probably cost the All Blacks a series victory.
Hansen was not so much protective as fatalistic about Williams’ latest incident (sure to fire up his critics) at a packed Stade de France which turned the tide of the test. After trailing the All Blacks 31-5 at halftime, the home side closed to 31-18 a dozen minutes into the second spell and appeared to have the New Zealanders reeling.
‘‘He doesn’t know the rules because he was playing league,’’ said a cool and collected Hansen afterwards. ‘‘In league you’re allowed to smash it over the deadball line. It’s a good lesson for Sonny and he knows next time to catch it, rather than bat it over the line.
‘‘I knew what Sonny did wasn’t legal. You’re not allowed to pat the ball over. A guy called John Kirwan did it in a Ranfurly Shield game years ago against Canterbury and got away with it. But we’ve moved on from that.’’
And Hansen explained why his initial exasperation over the penalty try soon turned to acceptance.
‘‘I was surprised until Fozzie [assistant coach Ian Foster] told me the rules. I didn’t realise that, once he committed that foul play, he was then deemed to be invisible. If you commit foul play ingoal you’re not there. Once I understood that, it was obviously going to be a penalty try because [Yoann Huget] might have caught it.’’
Hansen said Read’s groin strain, and 48th-minute substitution, was ‘‘not a biggie’’ but made to avoid the risk of aggravating it more. Coles’ situation is potentially more serious.
‘‘Dane is off to get a scan. It’s a bit of a mystery. I’m not sure what’s happened. Doc tested him and all the ligaments feel pretty stable. He felt his foot get caught in the turf, but we’re not sure what he’s done.’’
Hansen lamented a second-half ‘‘loss of discipline’’ that invited the French back into the test but said his frustration levels were only sitting at five out of 10.
Sonny Bill Williams