All Blacks keen to make a state­ment

Dis­ap­point­ment of last sea­son’s drawn Lions se­ries still lingers

Weekend Herald - - Rugby - Liam Napier in Lon­don

Alarm bells should be ring­ing for Ed­die Jones. If the of­ten out­spo­ken English coach wasn’t al­ready aware how highly-mo­ti­vated the All Blacks are to dom­i­nate at Twick­en­ham this week­end, he cer­tainly should be now af­ter Steve Hansen raised the stakes sig­nif­i­cantly by sug­gest­ing this match is more im­por­tant than last year’s Lions tour.

“I think it’s even big­ger than that ac­tu­ally,” Hansen said be­fore the All Blacks’ main train­ing ses­sion in Lon­don. “The Lions tour has made it big­ger be­cause we weren’t suc­cess­ful in only draw­ing the se­ries. That, to us, wasn’t suc­cess­ful. That’s made this week have a sharper edge to it, which is good.”

Such com­ments of­fer a glimpse in­side the men­tal­ity of the All Blacks this week. In front of 80,000 on one of world rugby’s grand­est stages, they want to be ruth­less. They want to make a state­ment.

No mat­ter what they do, there is a feel­ing within the All Blacks the Lions re­sult is con­tin­u­ally rubbed in their face. Defin­ing in­stances, such as Sonny Bill Wil­liams’ red card in the sec­ond test, and the highly con­tro­ver­sial end­ing to the third at Eden Park, have seem­ingly faded from me­mory for some.

Many in the north pre­fer to re­mem­ber only the fi­nal 1-1-1 re­sult. Of­ten it is sug­gested, in fact, the Lions should have won the se­ries. Never mind the All Blacks blew three tries in the first 20 min­utes of the de­cider.

“Sonny doesn’t have any demons and he’s got no devils run­ning around in his head,” Hansen said, shak­ing his head. “Yes, he was dis­ap­pointed, ob­vi­ously. He did a shoul­der charge which hit some­one in the chops and got red carded and rightly so. You just want con­sis­tency in that, don’t you?”

It’s fair to say, then, the All Blacks have a point to prove over the next two weeks as they meet Eng­land and Ire­land, both of whom fea­ture many fa­mil­iar faces from the Lions tour.

While re­sults in the next two tests can’t change the only ma­jor blem­ish of Hansen’s seven-year reign, they can al­ter per­cep­tions, and also go a

long way to re­in­forc­ing where the All Blacks sit in the over­all peck­ing or­der.

This week, the All Blacks man­age­ment and play­ers reg­u­larly touched on the dif­fer­ences in style be­tween the South­ern and North­ern Hemi­spheres, al­most taunt­ing Eng­land to de­vi­ate from their script.

If the All Blacks can win with at­trac­tive, run­ning rugby this week­end, while Eng­land stick to their maul,

kick, de­fend ap­proach, even bet­ter.

And while Eng­land’s lead­ing Lions — Owen Far­rell, Maro Itoje, Ben Te’o, El­liot Daly, Jamie Ge­orge — may feel they have in­side oil to draw on, the All Blacks don’t ap­pear wor­ried.

“We did a lot of look­ing back at the time,” Hansen said. “That year, you can look at it and say the Lions se­ries was a gift be­cause there were a lot of things we didn’t do well. We haven’t wasted much time look­ing back at it over the last few weeks, no.

“The Lions se­ries hasn’t been great for English rugby in that a lot of play­ers have come back and gone straight back into club footy and there’s been a lot of in­juries. It’s hard to get mo­men­tum when you’re chang­ing your squad all the time.

“They beat South Africa the other day, so you’d have to say they’re on the up.”

Even Beau­den Bar­rett, who en­dured a dif­fi­cult time against the Lions’ rush de­fence, brushed off con­cerns he may again be sti­fled.

“We’ve learnt a bit from that and we think the ap­proach may be sim­i­lar,” Bar­rett said. “No doubt Eng­land would have got pieces from that se­ries and will look to bring those into this test match. It’s ex­cit­ing. We’re play­ing Eng­land, not the Lions, we have to re­mem­ber that so we’re up for it.”

Hansen doesn’t say these things by chance. This cal­cu­lated mes­sage is a clear tac­tic to dial up pres­sure on Jones and Eng­land. Be­cause when it comes to pres­sure, Hansen feels there is no bet­ter team ac­cus­tomed to deal­ing with its many faces. Walk to­wards it, as the All Blacks say.

“I don’t know who is writ­ing them off, you’d be fool­ish to do that. Does it put pres­sure on us? No. There’s al­ready pres­sure on us. The one con­stant thing about be­ing in the All Blacks is you’re un­der pres­sure,” Hansen said.

“You’re ex­pected to win ev­ery test match you play and win it re­ally well. Once you come to re­alise that, life be­comes a lit­tle eas­ier.

“It does, at times, give you an ad­van­tage be­cause when other teams are put un­der pres­sure of hav­ing to win big games, they haven’t ex­pe­ri­enced that as much as maybe we have.”

Photo / Getty Im­ages

Beau­den Bar­rett says the All Blacks have learnt from the Lions se­ries and that Eng­land may well take a sim­i­lar ap­proach to­mor­row.

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