AB coach Steve Hansen's highlights from 'titanic struggle'

Author
Patrick McKendry,
Section
Rugby,
Publish Date
Sunday, 22 September 2019, 3:15PM
Kieran Read celebrates with George Bridge and Sam Whitelock. (Photo / Mark Mitchell)
Kieran Read celebrates with George Bridge and Sam Whitelock. (Photo / Mark Mitchell)

His feet, not surprisingly, remain firmly on the ground after his side's 23-13 triumph over South Africa in Yokohama which emphatically proved that this is not a team on the slide. But Steve Hansen was also effusive in his praise of his side's defence and composure against a fast-finishing foe who turned their opening World Cup pool match into a "titanic encounter".

The All Blacks went to a new level in the second quarter to fly out to a 17-3 lead, with Richie Mo'unga and Beauden Barrett pulling the strings superbly and Sevu Reece and George Bridge too hot to handle at times.

But in reflecting on his side's 15th consecutive World Cup victory, Hansen was clearly just as pleased with some of the desperation shown by his players to keep the Boks out in the second half.

In fact, he described first-five Mo'unga's scrambling tackle on a flying Cheslin Kolbe in the final quarter as a "match winner" and Ardie Savea's turnovers in the final moments deserve to be in the same category.

"It was a match winner probably, or close to it," Hansen said of Mo'unga's tackle on the little speedster. "I thought our scrambling defence was very good. It was a big moment. That's what rugby's about, isn't it, trying to win the big moments that matter."

The ability of the All Blacks to respond to early setbacks – the Boks had all the possession in the first quarter – and do it through a disciplined fightback will fill him with a great deal of pleasure. The Boks conceded nine penalties to the All Blacks' four, and his side's discipline hasn't been great over the past few years.

Skipper Kieran Read said: "Discipline was always going to be a massive thing for us… it was a conscious decision not to give away too many penalties. We probably haven't been that smart this year but we didn't give away too many today."

They were all pleased with, firstly the result, and secondly and perhaps just as importantly, the performance, not that you'd get much on that from Hansen, who described the All Blacks' status as match winners and probable pool toppers as: "We're one for one. Pretty good."

There is water to flow under the bridge yet, but the All Blacks' quarterfinal opponents could be Scotland, although more will be known today when the Scots play Ireland at the same venue.

Hansen added: "It was hard early in the game for us. Our set piece wasn't as nice as it could have been… the boys became more fluid with it. It's an area we're continually working on.

"Everybody knew this was going to be a big match and it was. Both teams played well at times and we're very happy to come away with the win."

The All Blacks now have 10 days before their next game – Canada in Oita. Bodies will be extremely sore after this but, crucially, there appeared to be no serious injuries. "We'll use the next few days wisely and get back into work," Hansen said.

Beauden Barrett, who was adjudged the man of the match, received an accidental boot to the nose from No 8 Duane Vermeulen in the second half, an injury which initially looked worse than it was and may have worried Hansen and more than a few All Blacks supporters.

Barrett said: "It's a bit sore. It's never nice to get one on the nose, especially from a big bloke like Duane. But you expect to get a few bumps when you play the Springboks. It was certainly worth it."

He added: "It was good to throw the ball around, maybe we did it a bit much - it was a bit greasy out there. There was some expansive rugby so I guess that's why people want to watch footy. If we can do that for the rest of the tournament then that's what we're here for."

 

Radio Sport Weekender

Radio Sport Weekender

9AM - 12PM