By beating Wales 33-10 in Cardiff on Saturday Nov 24, the All Blacks continued their unbeaten run since winning the World Cup at home in New Zealand last year.
The All Blacks have hardly missed a beat, despite losing head coach Graham Henry and assistant coach Wayne Smith.
Many doubted that Henry’s assistant and former Wales coach, Steve Hansen, would be able to maintain the All Black form, particularly as Hansen’s new assistant, Ian Foster, came without international experience—and with limited success as the coach of the Super 15 side, the Chiefs.
But they steam-rolled over Wales and seem unlikely to lose to England on Saturday Dec 1.
Still, all might not be as rosy as the statistics.
During the Rugby Championship, Hansen out-psyched Australian coach Robbie Deans by creating a controversy around star Wallaby flyhalf Quade Cooper.
Hansen’s public sniping worked—and the repercussions are still shaking Australian rugby. In fact, Cooper has refused to re-sign with the Wallabies. It is unclear whether he will stay in rugby.
Doubters wondered if Hansen’s media tactics were necessary. Some thought they were unacceptable.
Minutes into the Wales game, experienced All Black hooker Andrew Hore hit lock Bradley Davies from behind, knocking him out and injuring him.
After the game Hansen said: “I’m resigned to the fact he [Hore] is probably going to get cited, it happens every time we come up here.
“I think they think we’re thugs or something, but we don’t play any differently to anyone else.”
The Hansen-doubters are concerned about both Hore’s foul play and the coach’s sulky attempt to shift blame from himself and his team onto the British officials.
Hore, 34, has played 74 games for New Zealand. He is not considered a dirty player.
The incident has caused outrage in the UK, rekindling memories of an incident in the 2005 Lions tour of New Zealand. Lions and Ireland star Brian O’Driscoll was injured in the opening minutes of the first Test. No action was taken.
There is more to this. Two weeks ago, experienced All Black blind-side flanker Adam Thompson was cited for placing his boot on the head of Scotland’s Alasdair Strokosch, receiving a 2-week suspension. Thompson 30, is not a dirty player. He has played 29 Tests.
All season Hansen has been open with the media, unlike his gruff, but discrete, predecessor, Henry. Even this unsettles traditional New Zealand fans who are used to Henry-style understatement from their coaches.
Hansen’s approach could not be criticised—yet. But the signs are worrying.
On Saturday, the All Blacks face a demoralised England in London, in their final Test of the year. Fatigue is setting in.
With Argentina added to the RC, players have spent most of the year flying from country to country, either for Tests or for Super games.
Foster said the preparation would focus on consistency rather than intensity, with an aim to combating tiredness.
“It’s about taking the same model and just taking a certain per cent off each of the sessions really,” he said.
Peter Lalanabaravi has over 30 years experience as a rugby writer.