Chris Rattue: All Blacks coach Steve Hansen hits the mark, Graham Henry cops a blow

Chris Rattue, NZ Herald,
Publish Date
Sunday, 23 September 2018, 2:01PM
Steve Hansen hits the mark...should Graham Henry duck? (Photo / Getty)
Steve Hansen hits the mark...should Graham Henry duck? (Photo / Getty)

It has taken 11 years but Steve Hansen finally put the BS to rest.

I've long suspected the relationship between Hansen and former All Black coach Graham Henry may have become purely functional, to put it nicely. Just a hunch.

After completing his long All Black tour of duty, 2011 World Cup winner Henry went off and helped coach the opposition – Argentina. Then he reckoned an unbeatable All Blacks team was "boring" for international rugby.

The former was, privately, not received well by the All Black inner circle. Hansen – Henry's assistant – would surely have taken the latter comment personally figuring that Henry should know how hard it is to reach great heights.

Hansen broke ranks completely over recent days, when he equated the All Blacks' latest defeat to the Springboks with the 2007 World Cup quarter-final loss to France. Yes people, the All Blacks had failed badly in some areas. Wow. Kapow.

Following that shock 2007 defeat, referee Wayne Barnes copped it from the Kiwi conspiracy theorists. Coach Henry never let the emphasis on allegedly poor refereeing go, including the revelation that he even wondered if match-fixing was involved.

Anyone who has watched that quarter-final in the cold light of day knows the dominant All Blacks were also a shambles and the main architects of their downfall, a few contestable Barnes decisions notwithstanding.

The verbal lynching of Barnes was a pathetic disgrace, the lack of perspective mind-blowing.

Hansen probably deserves more credit than he gets for his public utterances.

Yes, he's learned to control the media by understanding that information is power, in a sport where rugby HQ knows and runs just about everything.

Key journalists and media people must play a tricky game by critiquing the All Blacks without stepping across a line that will cut them off from what Hansen is prepared to tell them. This media balancing act has been helped by a run of All Black success.

Beauden Barrett...put on notice? Photo / Brett Phibbs

Beauden Barrett...put on notice? (Photo / Brett Phibbs)

At least Hansen is giving something back, and it's not always easy because criticising players is not necessarily in the best interest of team harmony, particularly in New Zealand.

While other sports and countries may revel in friction – try the Dutch football side – it's just not the New Zealand rugby way.

But New Zealand rugby has taken the cone of silence too far, including for its own good.

There's the odd outbreak of dissent from the likes of former Hurricanes coach Chris Boyd and New Zealand Rugby general manager Neil Sorensen.

But by world standards or any standards, it's generally tame stuff in the name of team stuff.

Hansen served it up this week, saying "the last time I can remember a game that was so poorly managed" was the 2007 World Cup quarter-final, that players had become too "individualistic".

He took on blame for the Wellington loss, along with major responsibility for fixing the leadership issues.

Those comments gave credence to those who have questioned captain Kieran Read and No 10 Beauden Barrett, and pause for thought to those who may be overly defending them.

His public comments have added solid intelligence and interest to the build-up for the next test in Argentina. This is how professional sport should work, what makes it work.

As an avowed Barrett fan, I'd have to say that the great No 10 sounds as if he might be on some kind of notice. Richie Mo'unga fans may be about to get their day in the sun.

Hansen and assistant Ian Foster handled the defeat with honesty and aplomb. This is a far cry from the post-match reaction in 2007, although the real reaction test comes after losing a World Cup game.

Still, maybe we are witnessing progress. There would be even more if Hansen's frankness was able to seep down into the rest of the New Zealand game.

Who knows? Rugby might go even further and come up with a crazy maverick or two.

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