Hansen ready for breakdown backlash
AUCKLAND: The All Blacks will prepare for a greater confrontation at the breakdown as a desperate British and Irish Lions look to level their Test series in the second match in Wellington, coach Steve Hansen,
pictured, has said. Hansen’s side surprised many by confronting the Lions up front, running much of their attack close to the ruck and using Sonny Bill Williams and Ryan Crotty as battering rams to secure a 30-15 victory at Eden Park.
That adaptation of ‘Warrenball’ – the tactic preferred by Lions coach Warren Gatland to get over the advantage line – ensured the All Blacks punched holes in the Lions defence, forced them into 165 tackles and gradually wore them down.
Hansen, however, said the visitors had appeared to ignore the breakdown and attacking channels close to the ruck in order to set up their wide defensive screen and he expected they would not make the same decision this Saturday.
“I thought they were reasonably non-abrasive at the breakdown by allowing us to get the ball we wanted,” Hansen told reporters on Sunday.
“They wanted people on their feet to set up a defensive line rather than attacking us at the breakdown.
“Maybe they’ll look at that.”
Hansen, however, added that by committing more players in close to stop the attacking plays off the scrumhalf and to the breakdown would open more space out wide, which players like flyhalf Beauden Barrett would be able to exploit.
“It gives you more space to attack,” he added. “I think we caught them completely by surprise by playing off nine as opposed to 10. They will look at that.”
Hansen is expected to make at least two changes to his starting side in Wellington with fullback Ben Smith undergoing concussion protocols while Crotty damaged his hamstring.
Hansen hinted he had seen enough of Barrett at fullback and Aaron Cruden at flyhalf in Saturday’s victory to consider playing the duo in the respective positions next week.
Red herrings and tonguein-cheek statements aside, the coach, however, is more likely to shift Israel Dagg back to fullback, where he has played the majority of his 63 Test caps.
How Julian Savea plays tomorrow for the Hurricanes could also determine whether Hansen shifts Rieko Ioane, who scored two tries on Saturday, to the right and brings the bullocking Wellingtonian onto the left.
Waisake Naholo, however, could also just slot onto the right wing with Dagg’s potential move to the number 15 jersey.
Selection connundrums aside, Hansen was keen to reiterate that they still had work to do, the Lions would come back hard and that nothing was won yet.
“It’s just a start,” Hansen said. “We have got a lot of work to do because they exposed us in a couple of areas.
“We hold the advantage in that we’re one up. They will chuck everything at us to stay alive and we have an opportunity to wrap it up.
“It will be a massive game. But all three Tests will be. We said months ago this would be a big series.” – Reuters