Drawn Lions series a major motivation for Hansen and New Zealand
Coach eager for visitors to prove a point against England at Twickenham
Steve Hansen: “The one constant thing about being in the All Blacks is you’re under pressure. You’re expected to win every Test match you play and win it really well.” Photograph: Peter Cziborra/Reuters
If the first match between England and New Zealand in four years needed any injection of hype then the All Blacks coach, Steve Hansen, delivered it when he suggested Saturday’s encounter is bigger than last year’s British & Irish Lions tour.
The drawn Lions series, the only major blemish of Hansen’s seven-year reign, will clearly serve as motivation for New Zealand at Twickenham. Frequently reminded of the 1-1 result of the series, the All Blacks meet England and Ireland, both of whom feature many familiar faces from the Lions, over the next two weeks.
“I think it’s even bigger than that actually,” Hansen said of the Test at Twickenham after naming the 23 for the match.
“The Lions tour has made it bigger because we weren’t successful in only drawing the series. That, to us, wasn’t successful. That’s made this week have a sharper edge to it, which is good.”
While England’s leading Lions – Owen Farrell, Maro Itoje, Ben Te’o, Elliot Daly and Jamie George – will attempt to implement the experience acquired from their New Zealand excursion last year, the All Blacks are confident the necessary adjustments have been made.
“We did a lot of looking back at the time,” Hansen said. “That year you can look at it and say the Lions series was a gift because there were a lot of things we didn’t do well. We haven’t wasted much time looking back at it over the last few weeks, no.
“The Lions series hasn’t been great for English rugby in that a lot of players have come back and gone straight back into club footy and there’s been a lot of injuries. It’s hard to get momentum when you’re changing your squad all the time. They beat South Africa the other day so you’d have to say they’re on the up.”
Rush defence was one area in which the Lions found success and the New Zealand outhalf Beauden Barrett is expecting England to try to replicate such systems to close down his time and space.
“We’ve learned a bit from that and we think the approach may be similar,” Barrett said. “No doubt England would have got pieces from that series and will look to bring those into this Test match. It’s exciting. We’re playing England, not the Lions, we have to remember that so we’re up for it.”
In many ways the Lions series turned on its head in the second Test in Wellington, where the All Blacks inside-centre Sonny Bill Williams was sent off in the 25th minute. The Lions went on to win that tense match 24-21, with the decider then drawn at Eden Park.
Hansen dismissed any lingering hangover from that incident for Williams, making what appeared to be a sly jibe about Farrell’s controversial tackle against the Springboks last Saturday.
“Sonny doesn’t have any demons and he’s got no devils running around in his head,” Hansen said.
“Yes he was disappointed, obviously. He did a shoulder charge which hit someone in the chops and got red-carded and rightly so. You just want consistency in that don’t you?”
Given England’s lengthy casualty list and the fact New Zealand named their strongest available side missing only the prop Joe Moody, who lacerated an eyelid in training on Tuesday, Hansen’s side are heavily favoured to inflict a defeat on Eddie Jones and his side.
“I don’t know who is writing them off, you’d be foolish to do that. Does it put pressure on us? No. There’s already pressure on us. The one constant thing about being in the All Blacks is you’re under pressure,” he added.
“You’re expected to win every Test match you play and win it really well. Once you come to realise that, life becomes a little easier. It does at times give you an advantage because when other teams are put under pressure of having to win big games they haven’t experienced that as much as maybe we have.”