Belfast Telegraph

Tourists’ triumph just what the sport needed: Hansen

 

By Jack de Menezes

Steve Hansen made the unusual acknowledgement that rugby “needed” the British and Irish Lions to beat his New Zealand side in order to increase the competition for the All Blacks, which he believes is “good for the game”.

The reigning world champions suffered a 24-21 defeat by the Lions on Saturday in a nail-biting contest in Wellington that was settled by a 78th-minute Owen Farrell penalty, which maintains the tourist’s hopes of securing only their second series victory in New Zealand in 129 years.

Hansen was left to rue what he described as “a mistake” by Sonny Bill Williams, with the centre sent-off in the 25th minute for a shoulder charge to the head of Anthony Watson that has landed him a four-week ban, but rather than dwell on the impact of first-half dismissal, the All Blacks coach was keen to look at whatever positives could come out of such a negative result for his side.

“Everyone will be excited next week. It will be great,” Hansen said. “Rugby has been needing something like this for a while. It’s now got it, so everyone will be a bit nervy about that because it could go either way, and how exciting is that?

“Someone said before it’s the first time I’ve had to come in and sit in here like this for a while. We haven’t done it a lot and people have got carried away, saying the All Blacks are this and the All Blacks are that. We have kept saying, ‘actually we don’t believe that’.

“We have got the Lions playing the All Blacks and we are in a great situation and competition is good for everyone because it forces everyone to have to improve.

“You look at the World Cup in 2015 and the four home nations would be pretty disappointed with what happened there. We have seen it improve because of that. All of that is great for the game.”

The New Zealand coach went on to claim that it is games like the second Test at the Westpac Stadium that will inspire the next generation to choose rugby over other sports.

The match itself was far from a classic.

There was heavy rain lashing down throughout the first 30 minutes that made the contest particularly tricky for both sides.

But Hansen believes neither set of fans inside the stadium will have taken any notice of the conditions, such was the excitement on the pitch.

The Kiwi has further problems to deal with ahead of the decisive third Test next Saturday.

Should Hansen stick to his word and leave full-back Ben Smith out of selection due to his concussion suffered in the first Test, he will be without at least three key players, with Williams set to be banned and centre Ryan Crotty still struggling with a hamstring injury.

The Highlanders centre, Malakai Fekitoa, will join up with the squad on Monday to ease those concerns in the back line, though being able to draft in a World Cup winner differs immensely from Warren Gatland’s addition of the infamous ‘Geography Six’ during this tour.

Yet there was some good news in that the wing, Waisake Naholo, should recover in time from the head knock he received from a swinging arm from Sean O’Brien that led to the Irishman’s post-match citing.

“He’s fine,” said Hansen.

“He passed the test last night.

“But because he was seen to be knocked out by the match doctor then we just took him off.

“But he was as good as gold last night and he’s woken up this morning chipper, so that’s great.”

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