Tokyo — All Blacks coach Steve Hansen has pushed back his Springbok counterpart’s assertion that his team habitually benefited from referees’ leniency during their long stint at the top of the world rankings.
On Wednesday, Bok coach Rassie Erasmus spoke of the latitude referees extend teams who have enjoyed prolonged periods of dominance at the top of the world order with the All Blacks‚ and to a lesser degree the Boks‚ benefiting.
Erasmus raised the temperature in the verbal sparring before their Rugby World Cup opener on Saturday, suggesting 50/50 decisions tend to go with the dominant side on the rankings.
Hansen was having none of it.
“It is obvious what they are trying to do‚” said the All Blacks coach. “While I’ve got great respect for Rassie, I can see he is trying to put pressure on the referee externally. They are under enough pressure already. They don’t need us coaches doing what he is doing.”
France’s Jérôme Garcès will take charge of the World Cup’s most eagerly anticipated pool match.
“It doesn’t matter who the ref is. You can always find things after a game that they didn’t do and get emotional about that. They pick on you and not the opposition. We’ve done that ourselves. They do the best they can do. And yes they don’t get it right all the time. It’s a big game and we want the referee to just get on with it‚” said Hansen.
His team selection raised a few eyebrows with no place for centre Sonny Bill Williams or wing Rieko Ioane.
“Every time an All Blacks team is named people are excited that they’re in it and disappointed when they’re not. And you wouldn’t want the disappointment to be any different‚ you just need them to get over it quickly‚” Hansen said.
He retained his midfield of Ryan Crotty and Anton Lienert-Brown that did duty against Tonga‚ while playmakers Richie Mo’unga and Beauden Barrett resume duties in the No 10 and No 15 jerseys respectively.
With inexperienced wings Sevu Reece and George Bridge cracking the nod and Ben Smith providing cover on the bench‚ there was no place for Ioane in the match 23.
Hansen‚ fronting a packed media gallery at the team’s central Tokyo hotel‚ was asked why the Springboks‚ who picked the same starting team for the first time since the last World Cup‚ look a more settled side than the All Blacks.
“If you look at our group there is plenty consistency‚” the coach countered. “What I’m trying to tell you we’ve got complete faith in the 31 and we’ll pick 23 that we think will get this job done.
“By and large there won’t be a lot of changes but there will be changes. We are playing Canada and Namibia four days apart. There will be plenty of changes there.
“Do we do that because of form? Of course not‚ we do it because we need to get to the Italy game in one piece. Tournament play is different from normal Tests‚” he said.
The game against Italy will loom large for the team that loses in Yokohama on Saturday night. Defeat to the perennial Six Nations stragglers would almost certainly mean elimination from the tournament.
All Blacks squad: Beauden Barrett; Sevu Reece‚ Anton Lienert-Brown‚ Ryan Crotty‚ George Bridge; Richie Mo’unga‚ Aaron Smith; Kieran Read (c)‚ Sam Cane‚ Ardie Savea‚ Scott Barrett‚ Samuel Whitelock‚ Nepo Laulala‚ Dane Coles‚ Joe Moody. Replacements: Codie Taylor‚ Ofa Tuungafasi‚ Angus Ta’avao‚ Patrick Tuipulotu‚ Shannon Frizell‚ TJ Perenara‚ Sonny Bill Williams‚ Ben Smith.