Hansen ab­sorbs his les­sons

The Southland Times - - Sport - Hamish Bid­well hamish.bid­well@stuff.co.nz

‘‘The ball’s in my court,’’ says All Blacks coach Steve Hansen.

New Zealand doesn’t en­joy watch­ing its test rugby team lose. Hansen hardly wel­comes it ei­ther.

That said, Satur­day’s 36-34 de­feat to South Africa wasn’t a dis­as­ter. Dis­ap­point­ing, sure, but not grounds for an in­quiry or calls for mass res­ig­na­tions.

There was hardly any­one among the 34,000 at West­pac Sta­dium who didn’t an­tic­i­pate an All Blacks win and, when they burst out to an early 12-0 lead, it ap­peared safe to as­sume some­thing in the vicin­ity of last Septem­ber’s 57-0 thrash­ing of the Spring­boks was on the cards.

The All Blacks seemed to think that them­selves, play­ing as if they ex­pected the tries to just keep on com­ing.

‘‘Some­times in sport­ing events you can get things too easy and you men­tally switch off a bit, and when you play qual­ity op­po­si­tion they come back at you and it bites you,’’ Hansen said yes­ter­day.

‘‘But, as I said last night, there will be a lot of learn­ings for us and this team hasn’t had much ad­ver­sity. Should we have drop­kicked a goal? Yep, of course we should have. And we had plenty of op­por­tu­nity to and we didn’t or­gan­ise our­selves.’’

There’s a sug­ges­tion New Zealand teams have a fun­da­men­tal is­sue tak­ing dropped goals, or be­ing seen to have to set­tle for them. Hansen said that’s not the case and is among the things the team will learn from Satur­day.

The coach was gen­er­ous in his com­ments to­wards the Spring­boks, prais­ing them for the qual­ity of their per­for­mance. Los­ing well is some­thing he doesn’t get much prac­tice at, but says he prides him­self on.

It must have been hard for him to watch Satur­day’s match and not feel the All Blacks were the ar­chi­tects of their own demise. From that promis­ing be­gin­ning, they ap­peared to get too cute, too fran­tic, too ea­ger to es­chew hard work.

Not to men­tion gen­er­ous to a fault, with An­ton Lienert-Brown cough­ing up an in­ter­cept try to Ch­es­lin Kolbe, and Jordie Bar­rett and Rieko Ioane com­bin­ing to put an­other on a plat­ter for Wil­lie le Roux. ‘‘So that’s 14 points. But, to be fair to them, they took ev­ery op­por­tu­nity that came. Didn’t miss any and that’s the ball game re­ally,’’ Hansen said.

Down 31-17, things might have be­come ugly for the All Blacks.

‘‘With 10 min­utes to go we could’ve won it twice over. We had plenty of op­por­tu­ni­ties, we just didn’t close it out and there’s the big­gest learn­ing: what have we got to do when the clock’s run­ning down [and] the score­board’s against us?

‘‘We’ve just got to take a big breath and do things right and be clin­i­cal and, if we’d done that last night, we would’ve won the game. But we didn’t.’’

Which is where Hansen and his coach­ing col­leagues now have to earn their coin. Peo­ple will for­give Satur­day’s de­feat be­cause it was a rare oc­cur­rence and a good game of footy, and there was noth­ing on the line.

What they won’t tol­er­ate is play­ers not learn­ing some­thing from the ex­pe­ri­ence and mak­ing the same er­rors in next year’s World Cup, for in­stance.

The team flies to Buenos Aires on Fri­day, where they’ll meet Ar­gentina on Septem­ber 30, be­fore the Spring­boks host them in Pre­to­ria on Oc­to­ber 7.

‘‘It’s a mas­sive [teach­ing tool], so I bet­ter be a good teacher over the next cou­ple of weeks,’’ Hansen said.

‘‘My job’s to be a good teacher, their job’s to be a good stu­dent. We talk about that a lot as a team, so the ball’s in my court.’’

‘‘Should we have drop-kicked a goal? Yep, of course we should have.’’ Steve Hansen

GETTY IMAGES

Ofa Tu’un­gafasi’s blood­ied face and grim ex­pres­sion says it all as the All Blacks pon­der their shock loss.

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