Steve Hansen philosophical as his baby All Blacks brace for battle
Saturday’s defining Auckland Test a family-affair for Barrett’s Beauden and Jordie
Jordie Barrett will vie with elder brother Beauden for kicking duties against the Lions on Saturday. Photograph: Phil Walter/Getty
When Steve Hansen walks into a press conference and takes his seat in front of the attendant media, he retains an easy calm and with it a clear control over the room.
For 25 minutes on foot of unveiling the All Blacks team to face the Lions in Saturday’s Eden Park decider, he answered every question on its merits, with clarity and his usual good humour. He was also strikingly philosophical, as he sought to keep some perspective on this momentous third Test.
Hansen revealed that last week’s starting wingers, Reiko Ioane, who was “a bit crook during the week” and Waisake Naholo, who had been concussed in the second Test, were not considered. Even so it is perceived as something of a gamble to give full test debuts to 20-year-old Jordie Barrett at fullback and 24-year-old Ngani Laumape at centre, after just one cap apiece off the bench to date, whatever about recalling another member of the Hurricanes backline, Julien Savea, whose 46 tries in 53 Tests leaves him within three of Doug Howlett’s record.
Asked if they would use Savea’s strength as a ball carrier in the inside channels as well as on the wing, Hansen replied: “Do you want me to ring Gats and just tell him what we’re doing? Look, we know he’s a big man, so his physicality will be good. I’d like to see him beat a few people. That would be good too.”
Of course, the selection of Jordan Barrett alongside his brother Beauden affords the All Blacks another option as a goalkicker after the elder sibling missed three out of ten kicks at goal last week, including a couple of relatively straightish ones.
As to who will be goalkicker, Hansen said: “That’s a good question. We haven’t asked either one of them who wants to do it. They both probably want to do it, and usually when there’s two brothers, the older brother gets to go first. So that will probably be the case.”
When the Beauden and Jordan followed with their first All Blacks’ media conference together and the former was asked the same question, he grinned. “We’ll have a ‘comp’ this afternoon and see what happens.”
Asked if it felt a little weird to have his younger brother alongside him at today’s press conference on the eve of them starting their first Test together, Beauden smiled broadly and said: “Yeah. Very weird.”
We learned from Hansen about how the Barrett brothers in the team, Beauden, Jordie and Scott, have their own nicknames for each other, (including one from movie Dumb and Dumber). The eldest confirmed it was “Lloyd.” But he quipped with a laugh: “It’s not Jordie, it’s obviously Scott.”
As was the case in the Samoa game, when all three played in the same Test for the first time, although not together, this Test will ensure another Christmas-like family re-union for the Barretts, including all eight children, father Kevin, mother Robyn and extended family. This time were Scott to come into the game while his siblings were on the field, they will become the first trio of brothers to do so in All Blacks history.
“She’ll be pretty nervous,” Beauden said of their mother Robyn. “But she always likes to have all the boys and the girls home at once a year/twice a year. So it’s pretty special when we all get together. They’ll be up again this weekend, nervously excited as usual.”
Faith in youth
Amid all this good humour though, Hansen had expressed his faith in young players whom he believes will grow into significant All Blacks players. He described this as a young team which was very much at the start of a journey. Twice he expressed the view that “win, lose or draw” these All Blacks will learn from the experience and become a better side.
“It’s not the first time we’ve lost,” Hansen said in reference to last week’s defeat. “I’ve read a lot of stories this week - you’d think the All Blacks had never lost a game and that the sky’s falling in.
“Every week there’s pressure. I’ve said this before - every week we’re expected to win every Test match and to win well. You’ve got to embrace that; you’ve got to walk towards it and at the end of the day life tells you we’re only playing a rugby game.
“Real pressure is when you gotta spend half an hour giving someone CPR and trying to save their life, and then when that doesn’t work telling their children or their father or their mother that ‘sorry, we haven’t been able to save them’. That’s real pressure. What we’re doing is playing a game of rugby.
“When you look at it what are the outcomes? We could win it, we could lose it, we could draw it. But we’ll be a better team for it. We’re a young side who are in the infancy of where we’re going. So, is there any more pressure this week than last week? No because we have to win to win the series. Just enjoy it and look forward to it and that’s what we’re doing. We haven’t really changed our week too much, if at all. Is there a little bit more angst? There probably is because we lost and we don’t like that. But the formula hasn’t changed too much.”
The expectancy of the New Zealand public is also something that he, like Graham Henry did before, embraces and accepts as a positive driver than a negative.
“I’ve always thought this. Our fans have a massive part to play in who we are because they have a massive expectation. For the team, we know what we have to do. We have to prepare really well, we have to make sure we don’t get hyped up too much, we just have to do our job.
“When you go for a walk you don’t think ‘I’m going to go free here’. It’s not a free walk, this. You pull your hoodie up and put your sunglasses on but they still know who you are so you take your hoodie off and sunglasses off and hold your wife’s hand and hope like heck they don’t want too many photos of her because she’s way better looking than me,” he admitted happily and laughing.
“Do you stop your life because of that? Do you shrivel up and become a flower that needs water all the time because you stay inside or do you go outside and enjoy being alive and accept that yes some people want at a photo? Well how long does that take? And when you get sick of it you shorten your walk up and go back home. It’s something we’re really looking forward to because it’s going to tell us a lot about ourselves and where we are heading,” said Hansen, now becoming quite the eminent grise.
As for reports that there was some punches thrown at the All Blacks training during the week, he said: “I read that one. I’ve read a few things this morning that have just come out of nowhere. There were no fights at training.”