At a glance
New Zealand 57 (Nehe MilnerSkudder 2, Scott Barrett, Rieko Ioane, Brodie Retallick, Lima Sopoaga, Codie Taylor, Ofa Tu’ungafasi tries; Beauden Barrett 7 cons pen) South Africa 0. said when asked to assess his team’s home portion of the test season. ‘‘We played pretty good against Australia, and showed composure.
‘‘In the early part of this tournament our composure has been outstanding.’’
Then Hansen came to the crux of the matter.
‘‘The team itself is growing, and the belief in the team is growing as you saw [against the Boks]. Some of the young players are making big strides. Ofa [Tu’ungafasi] is starting to really look like a test tighthead prop ... Codie Taylor, who had an opportunity with Dane [Coles] being injured, comes on now and it’s like we’ve lost nothing, and you’re talking about Dane being the best hooker in the world. That gives you a lot of confidence as a team.’’
Hansen could have continued. Rieko Ioane has become a worldclass left wing in a short space of time (on Saturday he had 12 carries, gained 171 metres, beat 11 defenders and made four clean breaks), Nehe Milner-Skudder has slotted back in on the right side as though he has never been away, Damian McKenzie is making a decent fist of fullback, Liam Squire and Vaea Fifita are emerging, so is Scott Barrett, and Nepo Laulala has filled in brilliantly for Owen Franks in the tighthead spot.
The team retains real quality in the key positions. Halves Beauden Barrett and Aaron Smith are back to their best (or close to it), Kieran Read is on top of his game, Brodie Retallick too and Sam Cane is setting the tone up front in all the right areas (like his team-leading 15 tackles on Saturday night).
On Saturday the All Blacks were down some pretty heavy hitters, with Franks, Joe Moody and Israel Dagg all out injured (and likely done for the year), and Ben Smith absent on sabbatical.
Yet you wouldn’t have known it. The forwards laid a wonderful platform, the backs attacked brilliantly and the defence was as good as it gets. Hard to do better than nil.
Hansen wants to see more of the standard on Saturday night over the looming road component. To that extent, the experience his players are garnering is invaluable, he says.
‘‘We had a young side against Argentina who had to battle through that game. So they’re getting learnings. Then this group contained some of those young guys and you saw their performance go up another level. It’s a confidence thing.’’