Hansen dismisses Super Rugby gulf

The Rugby Championship
Beth Newman Profile
by Beth Newman

All Blacks coach Steve Hansen says it would be “farcical” to suggest the Wallabies and Springboks won’t threaten in this month’s Rugby Championship.

The Wallabies are the defending champions, though Australia’s Super Rugby teams have had a disappointing year, with only the Brumbies making the quarter-finals.

Australian Super Rugby teams managed just three wins against New Zealand opposition in 2016, with all three coming on Australian soil.

Hansen said that meant nothing coming into the four-nation tournament, with the first Test between Australia and New Zealand on August 20.

“It’s farcical to think they won’t turn up and create a tremendous competition in the Championship,” he said.

“Australia has four weeks to get ready to play a Test, we’ve got a week by the time we get everyone there, so that's an advantage.

“They’ve brought some quality men back from overseas and they’ve also got a quality coach coming from New Zealand by the name of Mick Byrne, so that’ll enhance them as well.

South Africa’s Lions side have made the final this weekend but their compatriots have struggles against Kiwi teams.

Hansen announced his 32-man squad for the Rugby Championship on Monday, with Sonny Bill Williams a notable inclusion, set to return after his Olympic Sevens stint wraps up.

Chiefs fullback Damian McKenzie could count himself as one of the unluckiest players to miss out on the official squad, despite a breakout Super Rugby season.

The decision to opt for three halfbacks - Aaron Smith, Tawera Kerr-Barlow and TJ Perenara - squeezed McKenzie out, Hansen said, but he also posed the question of who would have to be omitted to bring the rising star in.

“Where do you fit him in? Do you drop [Ben Smith] to put him in the team?” he said.

“Israel in his last Test match was outstanding - do you drop him? He (McKenzie) can’t play on the wing so it’s not as if Julian (Savea) or Waisake (Naholo) can make room for him.

“The guy that can play fullback and first-five is Barrett so do you drop him for McKenzie? The answer is simply no.

“He just has to be patient and bide his time and keep being hungry and working hard.

“It’s not a matter of if he’ll play for the All Blacks, Damian, he’ll definitely play one, he’ll play a lot but not at this stage.

“It is tough but that’s why the All Blacks are the All Blacks.”

Hansen also defended his selection of Savea, saying the Hurricanes winger would be able to rediscover his form at Test level, despite being dropped to the bench in Super Rugby.

“When he’s right he’s the best player in the world in his position, so it would be foolish to throw him on the scrap heap,” he said. 

“We’re confident we can get him to play well.”