Rugby World Cup: Hansen laughs off Jones’ spying claims
All Blacks make just one change as Sam Cane moves to bench while Scott Barrett comes in
Scott Barrett comes in to the New Zealand team for their Rugby World Cup semi-final against England. Photo: Billy Stickland/Inpho
Kick-off: 9am Irish time, Saturday. Venue: International Stadium, Yokohama. How to follow: The Irish Times liveblog will begin at 8.30am. On TV: Live on Eir Sport, RTÉ2 and ITV.
If this Saturday’s first semi-final between New Zealand and England in Yokohama is as entertainingly tit-for-tat as the predictable jousting between Steve Hansen and Eddie Jones, and it has all the ingredients to do so, then it should be some game.
On foot of naming his team to face England, with Scott Barrett’s inclusion in the backrow in place of Sam Cane a clear declaration by the All Blacks that they are going after the English lineout, Hansen was in vintage form.
The opening five minutes were an inevitable barrage of questioning in light of Jones’ claim that England’s training session the day before had been filmed, although he didn’t go so far as to say it was by the All Blacks.
Interrupting the first question on the topic by stating Jones is a “hell of a good bloke - very good coach”, Hansen then responded to the spying claim.
“Eddie and I both know it’s all fair in love and war. And Eddie knows in a time of war that you throw out a bit of a distraction for you guys to deal with. Best clickbait in the world. ‘Someone is spying on us.’ He didn’t say it was us. He was very deliberate in not doing that. He talked about it being someone else, probably the same bloke who videoed us when we were there. But everyone has jumped on it and got the clickbait going.”
Looking ahead to Jones holding court five hours later, Hansen forecast good naturedly: “There will be a bit more tonight. It’s the reason why our press conference is now and his at 5 o’clock. It’s been good. We have had a good laugh and are relaxed.
“He didn’t make anything up. He was very particular about what he said, that someone filmed their training. He added at the back end of it that it could have been a supporter. He didn’t say that New Zealand did it, you guys all did. So it’s been very clever.”
So what did he make of Jones’ mind games?
“It’s a mind game only if you buy into it. It’s allowed us to have a good laugh. We’re not buying into it. As I said we have had a good laugh. Got a text from him saying ‘how’s it going’. I replied good thanks Eddie.’ I’m laughing.
“You guys are getting what you want because everyone is clicking on it and we’re wasting our time talking about.”
Jones also suggested that the pressure of trying to win would be “running down the street” after the All Blacks all week.
“I have talked about pressure since I have been All Blacks’ coach. Early in our history we ran away from it. These days we acknowledge it’s there. We get it every game. There is pressure, it’s a big game - doesn’t matter if it’s a quarter-final, semi-final or a test match - there is pressure. It’s a big game but it would be very naive not to acknowledge for it to be on both sides.
“That same pressure is running the same street. He (Jones) is trying to take pressure off his own side by getting you guys to talk about pressure on us. But I’m not buying into it, our players aren’t buying into it.
“We’re always under pressure and Eddie doesn’t need to tell us that. What he needs to work out is the pressure England is under, because they will have memories of the tournament from four years ago where it didn’t go that good,” said Hansen in reference to England being the only host country to bow out in the pool stages.
“They will be under immense pressure themselves. For him to say they have nothing to lose, Eddie doesn’t believe that either. They have had four years of work resulting on one outcome, which is the opportunity to play another game, which has its own pressure on it.”
Despite the brilliance and the scale of their 46-14 victory over Ireland, Hansen and his think-tank have opted to start Scott Barrett, primarily a lock, at blindside with Ardie Savea moving to the openside and Sam Cane demoted to the bench where he is joined by Patrick Tuipulotu in the absence of the injured Matt Todd.
“We will not go into too much depth because it will give Eddie some information that I’d rather he worked out himself,” said Hansen, before being pressed further.
“It’s strategic, not on form because Sam has been playing lovely rugby. However we have made some decisions on what we want to do and how we want to play and that means we have made the change because of it.”
What does Barrett bring?
“The obvious things. He’s a lineout forward and is a ball carrier. He adds to our ball-carrying ability.”
Barrett played the final throes of the game against Ireland in the backrow and it was during their 16-15 win at Twickenham last November that he was introduced early in the second-half. The All Blacks stole five of England’s 10 throws.
“It had a wee bit to do with it,” acknowledged Hansen. “Not significant. A wee bit.”
Somewhat similarly, the memory of the second and third Lions tests, when the tourists brought in Johnny Sexton to start at 10 with Owen Farrell at 12, may have had something to do with Jones’ decision to restore George Ford, with Farrell again moving to 12 despite his body language suggesting he was altogether happier at outhalf in England’s quarter-final win over Australia.
“We talked about that on Tuesday and that Eddie might make some changes,” said Hansen. “He’s pretty shrewd. We have seen plenty of the George Ford and Farrell combo and also the Farrell-Tuilagi combo. In your preparations you prepare for both scenarios and try to deal with it as best you can.”
The All Blacks’ legendary former captain, Sean Fitzpatrick, was amongst the 100-plus media, and Kieran Read will equal his tally in captaining New Zealand for a 51st time, placing them joint second behind Richie McCaw on 110.
A week ago Fitzpatrick described their performance against Ireland as their best in four years.
“We’re a lot more fluid and accomplished in what we want to do,” said Hansen. “One of the benefits off the World Cup is getting the All Blacks together without having to move around too much. And therefore you can train a lot more together and put those things in place.”
New Zealand: Beauden Barrett; Sevu Reece, Jack Goodhue, Anton Lienert-Brown, George Bridge; Richie Mo’unga, Aaron Smith; Joe Moody, Codie Taylor, Nepo Laulala; Brodie Retallick, Sam Whitelock; Scott Barrett, Ardie Savea, Kieran Read (captain).
Replacements: Dane Coles, Ofa Tuungafasi, Angus Ta’avao, Patrick Tuipulotu, Sam Cane, TJ Perenara, Sonny Bill Williams, Jordie Barrett.