Hansen takes aim at Cheika on arrival

The Rugby Championship
Beth Newman Profile
by Beth Newman

All Blacks coach Steve Hansen is keeping mum on his Bledisloe selections, but he couldn’t resist a swipe at Wallabies coach Michael Cheika on his arrival into Sydney.

The battles between flyhalf candidates Aaron Cruden and Beauden Barrett, and flankers Ardie Savea and Sam Cane have been high-profile ones ahead of the opening Bledisloe, contests that even Cheika commented upon, when asked.

Hansen wasn't too keen to hear of Cheika's thoughts on Sunday, though.

“It's good of the Australian coach to start picking our team,” he said.

“I'd say he's got enough problems of his own but we'll pick ours and he can pick his and he'll have a lot to say, no doubt.”

Michael Cheika was asked his thoughts on some standout Kiwis. Photo: Getty ImagesHansen and Cheika had somewhat of a repartee earlier this year, with the All Blacks mentor suggesting Cheika had been bullied through the media by England coach Eddie Jones as his side slumped to a 3-0 series loss.

The All Blacks coach played down the comments on Sunday, saying he had put it all behind him.

“I’m not playing any mind games, I was just answering a question I got asked about how I thought the series was going and the Australian coach got upset with it,” he said.

“I left that behind a long time ago, I'm moving on to what we've got to do.

“He can hang on to it if he wants to.”

As for his own selection dilemmas, Hansen said he was confident that incumbent flanker Sam Cane would be fit for the opening Bledisloe.

Cane is overcoming a concussion, with Hansen bringing Crusaders openside Matt Todd to Australia in their 32-man squad as injury cover.

“Sam Cane is probably 99 per cent sure to play but because it’s a concussion you don't want to risk it so we may as well have Matty here and he's right he's right, if he's not he's not right, I'm not too worried either way.

Cane’s fitness might not necessarily guarantee him a starting spot, with Hurricanes flanker Savea setting the competition alight this season.

The All Blacks have held the Bledisloe since 2003. Photo: Getty ImagesThe All Blacks come into the Bledisloe Test a far different side from the one that won last year’s World Cup, but Hansen said they had been readying for the transition into the post- Richie McCaw, Dan Carter era.

"We lost 818 caps, not too many teams could do that,” he said.

“We knew they were going so we've been planning for it for a long time and that's the exciting thing with this team, they've got to stand up in the big arenas and show that we could still do it.”

One absence they might not have been planning for is that of Sonny Bill Wililams, though Hansen said an achilles rupture could be a blessing in disguise for the cross-code superstar.

“The one positive of it is he gets more time with his family and the other positive is he gets plenty of time for his body to recharge.”

“He’s such a talented person - we'll miss him but at the same time it's an opportunity for someone else."