Steve Hansen takes fresh digs at Warren Gatland and British & Irish Lions
New Zealand boss steps up the mind games as first test against tourists looms
All Blacks coach Steve Hansen took a swipe at the British & Irish Lions on Thursday, saying they had split into two squads and were about to call for reinforcements as the first test looms.
The Lions have lost both of their midweek games so far on tour, against the Auckland Blues and Otago Highlanders, and won on the weekends against a Barbarians team and the Canterbury Crusaders.
“There is a clear difference between the two teams, the Wednesday team and the Saturday team.” Hansen said. “There is definitely a difference between the two squads in the way they’re performing.”
Lions coach Warren Gatland has 40 players already on tour and has heavily rotated his sides, ensuring each member of his party is given game time before the three-test series against world champions New Zealand.
“I think he is about to bring a few extra players out to give himself the ability to play two squads,” continued Hansen. “He’s at the stage where he wants to do that.”
Hansen was speaking on the eve of the All Blacks’ dress rehearsal against Samoa, part of a Pacific double-header in Auckland with Tonga also facing Wales.
With the exception of regular captain Kieran Read, who is a week away from returning from a broken thumb, Hansen said he was starting his strongest available line-up.
“We want to start the ball rolling and get away to a good start and whatever we do on Friday night we’ll be able to improve on the following week,” he said.
“Whilst the Lions is a dance that’s happening in the background, and we’re watching that with interest, there’s a responsibility to the jersey and those that have been before us, that we go out and take this test match seriously and respect Samoan rugby.”
Full back Ben Smith will lead the side in place of Read, and Aaron Smith, who suffered a form lapse last year, has been restored as the first choice scrum-half. Jerome Kaino will get his first start in eight weeks since undergoing knee surgery.
Hansen said the important thing for his team, in their first game together this year, was to shift from their clubs’ defensive and attack patterns and move fluently into the All Blacks style.
“If we can get through the game getting those connections going again, getting back into the All Blacks way, play with a bit of intensity and pace, with some accuracy, it will be good and obviously keeping an eye on the scoreboard,” he said.