Hansen extra cautious after Wallabies wobbly week
BRISBANE, Australia (AP) — Steve Hansen spends a great deal of time searching for even the tiniest vulnerabilities in opposition teams for his team to exploit. The All Blacks coach has not had to look far this week.
Australian rugby is in turmoil over Kurtley Beale’s off-field disciplinary dramas, the sudden departure of a female staff member and the heightened scrutiny on coach Ewen McKenzie for his handling of problems on and off the field.
However, Hansen decided it was unwise to stir any more trouble in the Wallabies camp ahead of Saturday’s test in Brisbane; the last Bledisloe Cup clash of the season.
“All we know is they’re copping it and that will make them stronger,” Hansen said. “I see them being a very dangerous beast this week.”
Most critics would disagree.
The All Blacks retained the Bledisloe Cup with a thumping 51-20 win in Auckland a week after starting the series with a 12-12 draw against the Wallabies in Sydney, a result that stung Hansen and his squad and — in retrospect — gave the Australian squad undue confidence.
It has mostly been downhill since there for McKenzie and his Wallabies, with two narrow home wins followed by defeats in South Africa and Argentina and the scandal of Beale’s suspension for a serious spat with the team’s business manager somewhere between Johannesburg and Buenos Aires.
The investigation into that in-flight incident exposed the deeper problem that Beale had sent lewd and offensive text messages around in June, and inadvertently copied in the team official. Beale’s future in Australian rugby is in serious jeopardy.
Meanwhile, McKenzie has been forced to defend his working relationship with the business manager and her credentials, and his own ability to continue as coach. He got the backing of the Australian Rugby Union early in the week, but another loss to New Zealand would only compound the pressure on his job.
Hansen thinks that kind of situation will more than likely galvanize the Australians.
“When a team is under siege as they are at the moment then one of two things can happen,” he said. “Either they unite and come out and play really well or they crumble to the pressure of it.
“I don’t see them crumbling — they’re too good of a team.”
Veteran All Blacks center Conrad Smith agreed, saying an off-field problem often “fuels the fire” for motivation.
“You get through stuff like that and you just want to play rugby,” he said.
The All Blacks have their own motivation, after a last-minute loss in South Africa on the last weekend of the Rugby Championship ended their 22-test unbeaten streak.
Australia prop James Slipper is confident of consigning the All Blacks to rare back-to-back losses while and also helping out the Wallabies’ embattled coach.
“It’s obviously been well documented what sort of pressure he is under and we feel somewhat responsible for that,” Slipper said. “With the couple of weeks that we have had we feel it is important that we come out firing ... it is about making a stand.”