Hansen tips his hat to old neme­sis

Weekend Herald - - Your Sport­ing Weekend - Wynne Gray

Luck­ily a smile laced the sage coach­ing face and words which tum­bled out of Steve Hansen as he sug­gested the Spring­boks were favourites for tonight’s test com­bat with the All Blacks.

Hansen was do­ing his bit for the pro­mo­tion of the Cake Tin test and show­ing the re­spect he de­manded from his play­ers as they all pre­pared to meet the old enemy.

For gen­er­a­tions of New Zealan­ders who re­call rugby be­fore it went pro­fes­sional, the Spring­boks were the yard­stick ev­ery team mea­sured them­selves against as they brought decades of his­tory which filled the sports pages and drew mas­sive au­di­ences.

That world or­der has changed for the Boks as South Africa and rugby faces up to the plethora of chang­ing mores and de­mands in their na­tion.

They are ranked sev­enth in the world, have lost their last two tests on the road to Ar­gentina and the Wal­la­bies and have not beaten the All Blacks since 2014.

But there was Hansen, mind­ful of the job he wanted his men to achieve, putting a new twist on the global rank­ings as he placed the vis­i­tors in the favoured frame on the ev­i­dence of the sides’ last meet­ing when the Spring­boks nar­rowly lost 24-25 at New­lands.

Ev­ery­one will have a view about Hansen’s judg­ment.

He comes from a back­ground which un­der­stood the in­flu­ence of the Boks on All Blacks his­tory and the con­certed power of their rugby. He’d been raised to re­spect any op­po­si­tion who had earned that rep­u­ta­tion and had en­coun­tered it through his Su­per Rugby and in­ter­na­tional con­nec­tions.

Hansen formed a friend­ship with for­mer Bok coach Heyneke Meyer which re­in­forced the ad­mi­ra­tion both had for the way they went about their work and the parts they were play­ing in a pro­tracted sport­ing re­la­tion­ship be­tween the two na­tions.

On the ev­i­dence of their re­cent work, Hansen knew his lat­est sum­mary flat­tered the Boks’ chances of vic­tory tonight but he was po­litely tip­ping his hat to a great rugby na­tion and savvy enough to think of the close calls his side has been through. There was the turn­around a year ago from a rol­lick­ing half-cen­tury win at Al­bany to a sin­gle point es­cape at New­lands and the tense two-point semi­fi­nal mar­gin at the 2015 World Cup.

Spring­bok coach Rassie Eras­mus brought great play­ing cre­den­tials as a fine test loose for­ward and was now search­ing for the right blend of play­ers and style as he grap­pled with his pro­mo­tion to the top job. Those mul­ti­ple tasks took a toll as Hansen knew from his time coach­ing Wales.

Dis­miss­ing the Boks is the sport­ing path for sup­port­ers or those who choose to take their hard-earned to the bet­ting shop. Hansen’s job is to keep his team on task, get their fo­cus right for kick­off so they can do their talk­ing out on the field.

Photo / Pho­to­sport

Steve Hansen is savvy enough to think of the close calls his side has been through.

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