All Blacks coach Hansen not buying Meyer’s praise

‘Heyneke has praised us a lot this week and that’s a tactic’

Steve Hansen doesn't play the media game, he envelopes it with hard-nosed Kiwi honesty. This was a masterclass. The New Zealand coach quickly stated that Heyneke Meyer, his Springbok nemesis, had been "killing" the All Blacks with kindness this week.

And he flatly refused to partake in this coaching love-in.

“That’s a tactic,” said Hansen. “We know they want to rip our heads off so I’m not paying much attention to that.”

Hansen had a tactic of his own before rugby’s most seismic fixture enters the unique surrounds of Twickenham on Saturday.


There is no need to write around the 17-minute transcript of Hansen's press conference at the Oatlands Park hotel in the tranquil London suburb of Weybridge. The 56-year-old pours plenty of flames on an already blazing build-up to this World Cup semi-final. Also, following Michael Cheika's lead, Craig Joubert is exonerated of pointed blame as Hansen verbally slaps the actions of World Rugby earlier this week.

“Firstly, welcome everybody, great to see you,” he begins. “(I see) a few more here so obviously there is something important happening.

“Look, we are at the business end of the tournament, we are right where we want to be, really exciting time. We got respect for the team we are playing, we think they are a great side.”

That’s the end of the platitudes.

“H(eyneke Meyer) has been very complimentary. Just about killed us with kindness but we know they want to rip our heads off so not taking too much notice of that. But we have had a great week preparation wise, we are ready to go.”

Wyatt Crockett (groin) joins Tony Woodcock (hamstring) on the loosehead scrap heap so Joe Moody was flown in last week and starts ahead of the more versatile Ben Franks.

“There was never any debate. Ben Franks is a very good prop, he covers both sides but Joe Moody is a specialist loosehead and showed he is a very good player in his performance last week.

“It was a no brainer.

“We are expecting Wyatt to be alright next week.”

The BBC begins a Richie McCaw line of questioning.

“He started out in 2001 [at Lansdowne Road] and was player of the day and he could have been player of the day in the other 142, 146 I think it is now? I’ve lost count. Can’t count past 10.

“He’s been an exceptional player and it’s not only his ability to play the game it is his leadership now, he has become one of the great leaders in world rugby. Particularly under pressure. He is well supported by Kieran [Read] and the other leadership group so there is a lot of mental fortitude there. We’ve been through some tough times and had success in those tough times. That breeds, I guess, a deep seated self belief.

"He is massively important but we are very fortunate that if he goes down we got a player in Sam Cane maturing into a very good player in his own right. I'm happy with the depth we got."

What did you think of Richie when he first came into the Canterbury Crusaders?

“Aw, I was there as a coach at that time. I always felt he was always going to be a very good player. He used to antagonise the shit of the older guys, because at training he was in the opposition and we had to pull the older guys aside to lay off him a bit. They started to get hacked off every time he pinched the ball but at the same time we had to talk to him about letting them have it.

“He’s been a real good competitor from day one. The one thing he has done throughout his whole career is keep evolving. When he first started he couldn’t catch a cold and he had four feet. His big thing he could do was pinch ball at the breakdown.

“Now he is a complete rugby player. He is a lineout forward, he can catch and pass and that’s a testament to his ability to want to be a better player every day. It fits in right with the ethos; we want to be a better team every day than we were the day before.

“He is a living example of it.”

In his next answer he could easily have been referring to Ireland’s week between France and Argentina (which was dominated by Paul O’Connell’s enforced retirement, Seán O’Brien’s disciplinary hearing and Johnny Sexton’s injury).

“I think the hardest thing in this week’s preparation is coming off the back of such a great win, because externally everybody has got a little bit carried away with themselves and there have been some outrageous statements.

“Internally there is an emotional high to playing like that but it is really important to get a full stop as early as possible.

“You got to enjoy that moment and can’t hide from it, but if you don’t put a full stop on it you don’t go from great to great, you go from great to struggling.

"We have acknowledged that to ourselves and we think we have done that, we believe we have done that, and if we get that right we will go out and have another great performance. Whether that's good enough to beat South Africa we have to wait and see.

“It is going to require another top performance.”

Have the player families been here this week?

“Aw they have been here right from the word go. I guess if I turn that question around and ask how important it is to have your family here you’d say the same thing as I am about to: It’s great to have your loved ones and the people that know you the best with you. It’s really important. But also having an understanding that there are times where they have to go where they have to go to be a rugby player. If everyone is well aware of that there is no problem.

“There are great rewards for having them here; you don’t get home sick for a start and, you know, I think there’s less distractions. A lot of people would say there is actually more but there are less as you are not fretting about people you love because they are here and you can see them.

“It makes life normal, which is great.”

Was the performance against France the All Blacks at their best?

“I don’t think we played our best rugby. We went through the pool stages and you blokes told us we were struggling which I really appreciated, it was good because it kept us on edge. And then we played really well, we played to a standard we expect and there were a number of reasons why we did that. A. It was life or death. You either win or go home. If we want to play in the final it is the same this week – it’s life or death. You stand up and be counted or you go home or even worse you got to play that other game. We don’t want to do that and I am assuming South Africa don’t either so we are going to have to go to another level.”

Meyer’s tributes on Wednesday are brought up again. The drinking of post-match beers. Hansen is asked to elaborate on their relationship.

“He went that far into it I don’t think I got to tell you anything else. He’s a cunning wee divil is Heyneke. He’s been praising us all week. Whilst I know he means some of it, I also know, as I said right at the beginning, he is getting ready to rip our heads off.

“If we get caught up in lapping up all the praise we won’t be in the right mental state to play.

“So, move that to one side. We’ve always had a good friendship and it’s become a bit of a tradition if you win the game you shout the other guy a beer because when you lose it sucks so I guess he’s had his turn of buying and I’ve had my turn.

“We’ll wait and see who gets to buy one on the weekend.”

There follows a long-winded question from a South African journalist about the Springbok quota system, "Bryan Habana, Beast and JP Pietersen," are mentioned as being part of the quota.

“The facts are they have to pick their side differently than everybody else. Whether you or anyone else wants to say that those guys are part of the quota I don’t know enough about it. I don’t have to do that. I just pick the best players. I think that’s the way any sporting team should be picked. I don’t want to go too deep into that or I’ll be in trouble with everybody. I’ll side step it.”

The Meyer “tactic” is readdressed via a question about when does healthy respect for your opposition turn into “lording over your opposition so it is detrimental to your team?”

Hansen doesn’t mince words with a cutting reply.

“I think if you use another word than respect (but) fear. There is something in it that makes you fear something. It’s a stupid man that doesn’t fear. If you are going into a fight, for example, if you don’t fear the guy you are fighting you are either fighting the wrong bloke or you are stupid. That fear just heightens everything. It makes sure all your emotions are in the right place so you can actually deliver the performance you need to.

“So whilst you respect people there is a fear factor in this game that is: if you don’t win you don’t get the prize you want, which is to go to the final, so that’s the thing that drives you to go where you need to go mentally. Whilst you might respect something, once you go over the white line it’s about getting the job done.

“Heyneke has praised us a lot this week and that’s a tactic. Behind closed doors I don’t think he is doing that with his team and you can see that in the wee comment that comes out of the young lock [\Lood De Jager or Eben Etzebeth] who said they don’t fear us but they respect us, just not very much. I’m sure H(eyneke) wasn’t too happy when he said that because he’s trying to paint a picture that they have to play the best game of their lives. That’s his way of motivating his team. At the same time he is trying to tell our guys if we just turn up we are going to win. We’d be very foolish to fall into that trap because if we don’t turn up with our A game we are not even going to have a chance. We got to turn up with our A game and a bit more.”

Do you have to warn your guys about going over the edge? Hansen preached discipline and talks about being physical without being stupid.

The referee question finally lands (Jerome Garces has been rewarded for his Argentina versus Ireland performance). The answer proves a lifeline from Hansen for a South African.

“Aw, I thought we’d get one of those questions in this week.

“Referees make mistakes. As long as they take breath they will make them because players do and coaches do. So, if you can accept that the best way to avoid that mistake being the game-winning mistake, for the wont of a better term, is to make sure you are in front by enough for it not to be.

“That mistake was made at the end of the game and it is obvious for everyone to see and everyone got carried away with. But sometimes they make mistakes at the beginning of the game that have a massive effect on the result. No one sees those because they are not caught in the emotion of that last-second penalty goal or whatever it might have been.

“It’s a really tough game to referee at the moment and we got to find a way to make it simpler for them to get it right.

“I know you are alluding to Joubert’s (error) so we may as well talk about that, to save someone else wasting a question on it: I don’t think it’s Craig’s problem I think it is the system’s problem. If you got technology that sits there and everyone says why didn’t he use it? But he couldn’t use it and that’s the problem. World Rugby has to fix that problem. If he could have used it we would have got a different decision. End of story. Referees have made mistakes from the first time the game was refereed and they will make them again on Saturday and Sunday and probably in the final.

“You just got to accept that.”

NEW ZEALAND (v South Africa): B Smith; N Milner-Skudder, C Smith, M Nonu, J Savea; D Carter, A Smith; J Moody, D Coles, O Franks; B Retallick, S Whitelock; J Kaino, R McCaw (capt), K Read.

Replacements: K Mealamu, B Franks, C Faumuina, V Vito, S Crane, T Kerr-Barlow, B Barrett, S B Williams.

Gavin Cummiskey

Gavin Cummiskey

Gavin Cummiskey is The Irish Times' Soccer Correspondent