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Hansen: we want to be great like Spain's football side

Date

The All Blacks coach tells Ian Chadband that the goal is to be better than they were the week before.

Watchful eye ... Steve Hansen ate All Blacks training at Latymers Upper School in London.

Watchful eye ... Steve Hansen ate All Blacks training at Latymers Upper School in London. Photo: Getty Images

Steve Hansen is perfectly content to let others judge whether the All Blacks team he is fashioning might just be the best team rugby has seen, but there was a 40-minute spell one Saturday afternoon in Soweto, in September, when even he was left utterly spellbound by the ethereal level his charges seemed to be reaching.

"The previous week we'd won in Argentina before crossing all these time zones to play South Africa," the New Zealand coach said. "We'd struggled in the first half [and were 16-12 down] but then in the second half, when we really had no right to because of all the travel we'd done, we just changed gear and took off.

"It was like a training run. Things just clicked - bang, bang, bang, everything worked. It wasn't easy but it looked it, like when you're watching a Pele or Maradona, a Dan Carter or a Messi, when they've got so much time and everything seems so simple. It was like the game was in slow motion and we were in control of it."

Error-free, dazzling counter-attack, 20 unanswered points. Supreme.

When Hansen, as assistant, had taken over from the revered Graham Henry as New Zealand's coach following last year's World Cup triumph, he could have been forgiven, like whoever succeeds Sir Alex Ferguson, for feeling completely daunted and believing the only realistic route was down. "But I didn't see it as a hospital pass. To coach your own country is a huge honour and very humbling," Hansen said. "But with it come expectations that 'you better do this right'."

Well, he has. Soweto confirmed it. Hansen not only scooped up that pass around his ankles but has made a searing run towards creating a legend of his own. World Cup-winning teams traditionally break up or dive into a post-euphoric slump. Yet his side are scaling new peaks; victory on Saturday would complete an astounding year of 13 Tests wins and one draw, taking their unbeaten streak to 21.

So routinely now, Hansen is asked if they are the best ever - as Lions coach Warren Gatland is the latest to declare - and he simply responds that "it's not for us to determine - all we can try is to be better than we've been before.

"We know it takes one thing to change opinions about us. Take this week. We let ourselves down with Andrew Hore's mistake and all of a sudden, people's perception changes. We are just looking every week to do the best we can."

The mark of the greatest sports teams is consistency of excellence over a sustained period. To that end, Hansen, seeking to make New Zealand the first back-to-back World Cup winners, is taking inspiration from the Spanish national football team, who have now won three major championships in succession.

"International sports teams struggle to keep having great, great, great performances and Spain are probably the only one recently. Clearly, they are doing something that makes their players want to be great every time they play. That's what we're trying to do, be as good as we have been, if not better. It's not so much that we've studied the Spanish team as studied the concept [of maintaining excellence]."

In the Olympics, for instance, Hansen wanted to understand the harsh lessons learned by the New Zealander Hugh McCutcheon, who coached the dominant US women's volleyball team. "They went undefeated through the round robin, beat the other finalists, never lost a set, but they lost the final."

Hansen wondered if it was about complacency, with the voice of an imaginary "little man" insidiously telling them they were so superior they did not have to prepare with the thoroughness they actually needed.

"That's where Richie McCaw is really good for us. He controls that 'little man'. He answers, 'I've got to prepare bone deep every time'. That's why he's so consistent."

Hansen says the captain's rigour rubs off on the newcomers being channelled into the squad through the New Zealand Rugby Union's high performance programme. They, in turn, put pressure on and energise the established stars. Continuity, competition and fun reign. "It's amazing how well the lads come straight in and fit in. They're a new breed of athlete," Hansen said.

Hansen thinks back fondly to when he was eight, watching his favourite All Blacks team on TV, the mighty 1967 side. With his father Des, a much-respected coach who died last month, he would gaze awestruck at colossal customers such as Brian Lochore and Colin Meads and even now imagines how great it would have been to see their skills and aggression "transplanted into this era of rugby".

So he will make no grand claims for his own team over the 1967 outfit or the first world champions, who went a record 23 Tests unbeaten between 1987 and 1990.

Still, the thrilling thought about the All Blacks of 2012 - or despairing for the pursuers - is their potential. "I really do think we can get better," Hansen mused. "There are one or two things we've got in our back pocket that we want to start working on next year." Goodness, it sounded ominous. That Soweto master class? Perhaps we have seen nothing yet.

The Telegraph, London

9 comments so far

  • They are a quality side, but they're far from perfect, and are still prone to the odd lapse, or complete brain-fart - like the one Andrew Hore had in Cardiff.

    And boy, didn't the Australian media LOOOVE that! Personally I think it was all grossly exaggerated. It was stupid definitely, and unlucky for Bradley Davies who copped it badly, but there was no real malice in it.

    Anyone who thinks a member of the #1 ranked team needs to play dirty two minutes into a game against Wales is a moron. What's the motivation?

    Despite the public apology being a bit slow coming, Hore, who ha an excellent record, was clearly contrite, and had been calling daily to check how Davies was doing.

    If Aussie fans could open their other eye for a moment, and compare that to Scott Higginbotham's attack on Richie Mccaw, which was blatantly malicious.

    Luckily Mccaw has a head made of granite, so the effects were trivial, but the intent was obvious - try to rattle the NZ skipper. Furthermore Higginbotham showed no remorse, and recently said he wouldn't change a thing! Wow!

    Hore did something stupid, and executed the cleanout (his job) recklessly, but was very apologetic afterwards.

    Higginbotham did something malicious, and is completely unrepentant.

    Commenter
    J B
    Date and time
    November 30, 2012, 11:32AM
    • JB, it beats me how can you say that either incident (Hore or Higgers) was malicious or not? Only the player committing it knows that. It cannot be proved by just seeing the incidents. However,everyone can see which one did the most damage. And to compare the two incidents in the same paragraphs, and use the term "grossly exaggerated" (re Hore) shows you are the one-eyed one. The "grossly exaggerated" term fits the Higgers incident. You must be having a go mate? BTW good on Hore for apologising and contacting the injured player, but he definitely got off lightly.

      Commenter
      PJ man
      Date and time
      November 30, 2012, 12:11PM
    • @ J B

      Get over it and stop comparing apples to oranges !

      This is NOT a 'us verses them' situation, if anything it just highlights the need for more effective management by the IRB to get serious about ALL acts of violence, ESPECIALLY when set on the international stage.

      Besides, you're way off topic as to the article's content....it's about the (in reality) total dominance of your beloved ABs. And as a Wallaby supporter I am somewhat reluctantly happy to say there is blinding daylight between the ABs and ANY other Rugby Nation at present.
      Can they get better.... friggin' hope not !

      Commenter
      Machooka
      Location
      inner west sydney
      Date and time
      November 30, 2012, 12:12PM
  • Don't agree with JB. I'm a Kiwi and Hore climbed into the hit. That said Davies went looking for trouble and found it. That could be the reason why the punishment is so light on Hore.

    Commenter
    sod
    Date and time
    November 30, 2012, 11:44AM
    • Mate it might help if you read the article of the IRB's report. Hore actually hit, first with an open hand, then it was the follow through with the forearm that did the damage

      Commenter
      Muzzo
      Location
      Orange
      Date and time
      November 30, 2012, 3:54PM
    • yeah i thought so to (he went looking for trouble and found it) he was trying to slow it down and he got shot from behind. Not that i condone what Hore did, but you aussies should get off your high horse when it comes to off the ball incidents because the aussie team have to be the worst outta the top 5. i can think of Faingaas hit from behind on woodcock when he was protecting the ball at a ruck, woodcock couldnt play for 2 weeks after that. Cooper and Higginbottom also should be labelled as such. But as always Wallaby supporters will always turn the other way when these things happen when their team is involved in such incidents, and it had to be the context of the incident as to why it was not more severe.

      Commenter
      tamaharry
      Date and time
      November 30, 2012, 11:41PM
  • I think Steve is getting a little but ahead of himself here, the current team is pretty goog, however lets look at the current opposition: Australia- debiltated with injures and huge playing load; South Africa- rebuilding;England- rebuilding;France- comsi comsa; Ireland- same as usuall, Wales -utterly woefull since last years 6 nations, have they won a game since?

    I believe the truth will come out once Ritchie,Conrad Mils, Woodcock and Carter finally retire. The ABs' were terrible against Australia in Brisbane, and hardly been clinical since, Samoa easily beat Wales, Tonga beat Scotland and Italy only just beat Tonga.

    Finally as Steve pointed out his team will only get better, guess what the opposition teams have only got one to go and that is up.

    Commenter
    Taffy
    Location
    Ingleburn
    Date and time
    November 30, 2012, 3:25PM
    • The hit on Davies has been blown up massively. That sort of jaw cruncher is pretty standard in any decent game of mungo! It was not a bright moment for the ABs and they have to own it, which they have, so move on.

      As for Higginbotham, all he did was attack the enemy's talisman. As in ancient battles he went to take out the standard. Wasn't too malicious and added a little spice.

      Thank god the ABs are playing some decent rugby because the wallabies are playing worse than the french on a bad day.

      Commenter
      Serge Blanco
      Location
      Murrumbidgee Riviera
      Date and time
      November 30, 2012, 7:43PM
      • I actually want to comment on Nathan Sharpe. Fantastic career and I hope the Aussies have a great victory tonight to send him off. I've been amazed at his huge performances against the ABs this year, in a team decimated by injury and seemingly struggling with political ructions. When interviewed after a loss the guy is filthy. Not because of arrogance, but because he gave everything he had and is genuinely gutted. Well played Nathan Sharpe, from a pesky Kiwi.

        Commenter
        PeeGee
        Location
        NZ
        Date and time
        December 01, 2012, 12:02PM

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