Hansen faces no-win situation

June 5, 2014
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© Getty Images

© Getty Images

All Blacks coach Steve Hansen already walks a thin line managing public expectations while trying to develop a 2015 World Cup squad, yet the clash against England on Saturday is looming as one in which he will be second guessed regardless of the result.

The All Blacks enter the clash on the back of an unbeaten 2013, have not lost a game at Eden Park in 20 years or been defeated in New Zealand since late 2009 – a run of 30 matches.

On top of that, opposite coach Stuart Lancaster has been forced to pick a side missing several first-choice players for the opener of the three-test series because they arrived late in the country after contesting the English club final last week.

England’s 2003 World Cup winning coach Clive Woodward has described the itinerary as worse than the one his team faced on the 1998 ‘Tour from Hell’, while local and British pundits have already written off the tourists chances.

Therein lies Hansen’s dilemma.

The All Blacks, notoriously slow starters in their international season, need to win and win well or the pundits will start to question whether the side’s remarkable run from the 2011 World Cup – they have won 26 of their 28 tests since they clinched the trophy – is starting to slow down.

Even if they do win well, the performance will be framed in the fact England were fielding an under-strength side and nobody had expected them to come close in the first place.

Not that Hansen is buying any of those discussions of the game that kicks off at 7:35 p.m. (0735 GMT) on Saturday.

England, after all, is the only side to have beaten the All Blacks since the World Cup and they came close to repeating the victory again last year at Twickenham.

“There’s been a lot of talk… about this being a poor England side, but when you go through them they’ve all played internationals in the last 12 months, and there are not that many changes from the last time we played them – and that was a great contest,” he told reporters in Auckland on Thursday.

“We expect them to turn up, they’ve clearly got confidence in who they are and what they’re doing.

“Their environment seems to be one of just keeping quiet and get on and do the work, and that makes them dangerous.”

The awareness of the threat England could provide has also indicated Hansen’s relative conservatism in naming his first test side.

CRUDEN READY

While there was some debate as to whether Hansen would shake up his team, he instead preferred to pick players he knows are proven under pressure.

Most notable of those was flyhalf Aaron Cruden, who has only just returned to the field after six weeks out with a broken thumb and was under pressure from Beauden Barrett for his role.

“We just think he’s ready to go, he’s a good reader of the game, a good organiser, and I believe he’s really comfortable now in that role,” Hansen said of Cruden’s selection.

“We’ve got a lot of belief in him and think he’ll do a great job.”

Lancaster has been pragmatic about the test as he too continues to build depth ahead of the World Cup next year that his country will host.

Only three of the starting side have more than 30 caps, while the replacements bench is inexperienced with scrumhalf Ben Youngs (35) having accumulated more caps than the other seven players combined, who have a total of 33.

Teams:

New Zealand: 15-Israel Dagg, 14-Ben Smith, 13-Conrad Smith, 12-Ma’a Nonu, 11-Ben Smith, 10-Aaron Cruden, 9-Aaron Smith, 8-Jerome Kaino, 7-Richie McCaw (captain), 6-Liam Messam, 5-Sam Whitelock, 4-Brodie Retallick, 3-Owen Franks, 2-Dane Coles, 1-Tony Woodcock

Replacements: 16-Keven Mealamu, 17-Wyatt Crockett, 18-Charlie Faumuina, 19-Patrick Tuipulotu, 20-Victor Vito, 21-TJ Perenara, 22-Beauden Barrett, 23-Malakai Fekitoa

England: 15-Mike Brown, 14-Marland Yarde, 13-Manu Tuilagi, 12-Kyle Eastmond, 11-Jonny May, 10-Freddie Burns, 9-Danny Care; 8-Ben Morgan, 7-Chris Robshaw (captain), 6-James Haskell, 5-Geoff Parling, 4-Joe Launchbury, 3-David Wilson, 2-Rob Webber, 1-Joe Marler

Replacements: 16-Joe Gray, 17-Matt Mullan, 18-Henry Thomas, 19-Dave Attwood, 20-Tom Johnson, 21-Ben Youngs, 22-Danny Cipriani, 23-Chris Pennell

Referee: Nigel Owens (Wales)

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