Rugby Championship

Hansen gives All Blacks Bok destroyers a B+

2017-09-18 11:06
Steve Hansen (Gallo)

Cape Town - Steve Hansen believes his All Blacks of 2017 remain short of the A-standard, even after their record dismantling of the Springboks to take an iron grip on yet another Rugby Championship.

READ: Internet goes meme-crazy after Boks' record Test defeat

According to Stuff website writer Marc Hinton, after his side ticked just about every box in the book on Saturday at QBE Stadium, running in eight tries to annihilate the Boks 57-0, Hansen might have raised an eyebrow or two when he assessed his team's first half of the year somewhere around a B-plus.

Sure, he's a hard marker. The man has been part of consecutive Rugby World Cup triumphs, after all. He has been to the mountain top, and he understands when a side is still making its way up towards nosebleed territory.

And there was also that British and Irish Lions series to factor in. No matter the opponents, the All Blacks are never content with a drawn series, nor with going two home Tests on the bounce without a victory.

So, though the All Blacks give every appearance of heading inexorably back to the lofty plateau they occupied last season, Hansen considers his class of 2017 still very much a work in progress. Albeit one that possibly just unfurled one of their finest performances of the century.

"We drew a series we should have won, after being behind for three minutes of the whole series. We didn't score enough tries, we didn't play enough rugby," Hansen said when asked to assess his team's home portion of the Test season.

"We played pretty good against Australia, and showed composure.

"In the early part of this tournament our composure has been outstanding. Even against Argentina with a young side, making the seven changes we did, just after half-time to down by what we were, we could have crumbled. But they stayed strong, came back and won the game pretty comfortably. They get a big plus for that."

"The team itself is growing, and the belief in the team is growing as you saw (against the Boks). Some of the young players are making big strides. Ofa (Tu'ungafasi) is starting to really look like a Test tighthead prop ... Codie Taylor, who had an opportunity with Dane (Coles) being injured, comes on now and it's like we've lost nothing, and you're talking about Dane being the best hooker in the world. That gives you a lot of confidence as a team."

Hansen could have continued.

Rieko Ioane has become a world-class left wing in a short space of time (on Saturday he had 12 carries, gained 171 metres, beat 11 defenders and made four clean breaks), Nehe Milner-Skudder has slotted back in on the right side as though he has never been away, Damian McKenzie is making a decent fist of fullback, Liam Squire and Vaea Fifita are emerging, so is Scott Barrett, and Nepo Laulala has filled in brilliantly for Owen Franks in the difficult tighthead spot.

The team retains real quality in the key positions. Halves Beauden Barrett and Aaron Smith are back to their best (or close to it), Kieran Read is on top of his game, Brodie Retallick too and Sam Cane is setting the tone up front in all the right areas (like his team-leading 15 tackles on Saturday).

On Saturday the All Blacks were down some pretty heavy hitters, with Owen Franks, Joe Moody and Israel Dagg all out injured (and likely done for the year), and Ben Smith absent on sabbatical.

Yet you wouldn't have known it. The forwards laid a wonderful platform, the backs attacked brilliantly and the defence was as good as it gets. Hard to do better than nil.

Hansen wants to see more of the standard on Saturday over the looming road component. To that extent, the experience his players are garnering is invaluable, he says.

"We had a young side against Argentina who had to battle through that game. So they're getting learnings. Then this group contained some of those young guys and you saw their performance go up another level. It's a confidence thing."

And his depth continues to grow. He is introducing props, and loose forwards, and back-three men who are lapping up their experiences. Jerome Kaino's absence has barely been felt.

"The big plus to the injuries is you have to expose other people to the coalface and they have to grow up quickly," added Hansen. "At the end of it when everyone comes back you've got a bigger pool.

"We're not the finished article by any stretch, we've still got a lot more growing to do and we look forward to doing that."

Even the non-players are doing their thing. The All Blacks lineout had a field day on Saturday with five takeaways. Latter it was revealed that Luke Romano had masterminded that plan.

"We've got a big player input. We've got a lot of brains here, so let's use as many of them as we can," said Hansen.

"Luke thrives on that stuff. He's good at it, so why wouldn't you use it?

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