Hansen turns pressure on ref
Auckland - New Zealand assistant coach Steve Hansen has ratcheted up the pressure on referee Craig Joubert to prevent a free for all at the breakdown in this weekend's Rugby World Cup semi-final with Australia.
Hansen was critical on Thursday of Kiwi referee Bryce Lawrence's officiating of the rucks, where Wallaby openside flank David Pocock dominated, during Australia's gripping 11-9 quarter-final win over defending champions South Africa last weekend.
Lawrence has copped considerable stick, particularly from South Africa, over his performance, but New Zealand are wary of Pocock's mastery in foraging for turnover ball.
South African official Joubert will control Sunday's semi-final at Eden Park and Hansen said it was important for the crucial breakdown battle to be adjudicated in line with rugby's rules.
"Joubert's pretty good (refereeing the breakdown), but how he's going to do it on Sunday, we don't know," Hansen told reporters.
"He's human and he'll make decisions based on what he thinks he's seeing and it's pretty clear what you're allowed to do, but you get variation every week, don't you?"
Hansen joined in criticism of Lawrence's performance in Wellington where Pocock played a decisive role in a backs-to-the-wall win over the Springboks.
"I would say that Bryce (Lawrence) is probably a little disappointed with how he did it last week," he said.
"I think Bryce was (a bit lenient). You're not allowed to go off your feet at the breakdown and you're not allowed to hang on to the ball after the ruck is formed and let it go."
Pocock's battle with the All Blacks' champion number seven Richie McCaw will be one of the intriguing sub-plots of Sunday's showdown to decide a place in the October 23 final.
In contrast to Hansen, Wallabies' coaching co-ordinator David Nucifora had no issues with Lawrence's officiating last weekend.
"I thought the referee did a fine job, no problem from where we were sitting, I thought it was consistent for both teams," he said.
And in a parting barb, Nucifora added: "I'm sure Steve (Hansen) has seen enough of number sevens (McCaw) pushing the boundaries, he knows how it works."
Hansen said the All Black players were not the only ones feeling the mounting pressure of what was at stake.
"Everyone feels pressure, it's how you react to it that's the key and we're really excited and looking forward to the challenge of the semi-final, it doesn't get any bigger," Hansen said.
"So as long as you can walk towards the pressure then you are in control of it, it's not in control of you.
"We have a group of players who are really excited about what's coming up.
"I like to say 'do' rather than 'die'. It's a massive game clearly, and the winner gets to carry on."
Hansen said it was up to the team's senior players to rally round Aaron Cruden, the All Blacks' third fly-half of the World Cup following tournament-ending injuries to Dan Carter and Colin Slade.
"We have a simple game plan so it's not too hard to learn it and it's just a matter of understanding it," he said.
"When Carter got injured the guys around Cruden and Slade just had to stand up and do a little bit extra.
"It's not Aaron Cruden who has to do the extra bit.
"Your top players in the big games have to play as top players, you can't afford them not to be world-class, and that'll be what it is like on Sunday."