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