All Blacks respond to ‘cheats’ tag
WITH the All Blacks leaving for Japan to continue their Rugby World Cup build-up on Monday after a final warm-up match against Tonga on Saturday, it's clear coach Steve Hansen doesn't want to provoke anyone or provide potentially bold international headlines.
Not surprisingly, he's not too fussed about getting into World Rugby's rankings shemozzle which has seen Wales lose their brief grip on the No.1 spot after their loss to Ireland in what was coach Warren Gatland's final home game.
Quite rightly, Hansen, who held court in Hamilton ahead of the Test against Tonga at Waikato Stadium, believes the apparent randomness of Wales overtaking the All Blacks despite not beating them since 1953 is a conversation for another day and one that must be led by World Rugby.
But as for the All Blacks being called cynical at the breakdown and effectively the biggest cheats in the game, a perennial theme without any basis in fact, Hansen couldn't help but draw a verbal line under it.
The latest attempt to rewrite history has been made by former international Stuart Barnes, now a Times columnist, who believes the All Blacks are taking three open side flankers in Sam Cane, Ardie Savea and Matt Todd in order to emulate Richie McCaw's dark wizardry at the breakdown.
"New Zealand, the most positive attacking team in the world, have their flip side," Barnes opined. "They are also the most cynical cheats at a breakdown."
All of which was given short shrift from Hansen, who said: "I haven't given it any thought. It's a waste of time.
"If he thinks that's why we're carrying three open-sides, then carry on thinking that. He couldn't be further from the truth, but carry on thinking it.
"All of that stuff is irrelevant - we're playing Tonga this weekend," Hansen added.
"You've got commentators in the UK who've come out and said we're cynical at the breakdown. We're no different to any other team at the breakdown, but he's got to say something because he's got to sell his papers. Let's not get caught up and buy into that."
And yet there may be a frustration too that the All Blacks have again been tarred with a brush that should have been thrown into the rubbish years ago, and if anything they now appear to get more attention from officials than many other teams.
An example is Irish lock Devin Toner's shoulder to the head of Welsh prop Rob Evans late in Ireland's 22-17 victory in Cardiff at the weekend.
Toner, defending his line, went low and caught Evans in much the same way as Scott Barrett did Michael Hooper in Perth a few weeks ago.
The sanction for Barrett was a red card and a three-week suspension. Toner wasn't penalised and hasn't been cited.
That too is a conversation for another day, but the inconsistency of rulings will have the top coaches fearful of nearly every long blast on a referee's whistle or television match official's intervention in Japan.
The All Blacks play the Springboks at the same venue a day later.
The intention for Saturday's match is to get game time into those of his players who need it most ahead of barnstorming opening Test against the Boks a fortnight later.
In Hansen's control was the selection of that match-day 23, and to an extent, how his players prepare this week and indeed the next two months if they qualify for the final in Tokyo on November 2.
There was talk of other recent international results and how significant they were but, again, they are about as relevant to Hansen as the All Blacks being ranked No 1 again.
"I can't control what England, Ireland, Spain do - are they coming to the World Cup? No? Well, I definitely can't control what they're doing because they're not coming," he said.
"It's a waste of time asking me. I don't mean to be flippant or annoying. England, Ireland, South Africa, Australia, Scotland, France, they're all going to be hard to be beat because they all want to win the tournament and are preparing well."