The best coaches are hard men to please, so when Steve Hansen played down the achievement of his New Zealand side in piecing together a perfect year of rugby in 2013 – "The reality is that we could have been beaten two or three times during that run," he said – he did precisely what would have been expected of him by Graham Henry, his World Cup- winning predecessor. Even so, the judgement sounded just a little harsh.
It was also difficult to take him completely seriously when he talked of another so-called "reality", claiming that "this England team can do some things better than us". Had England been going into Saturday's opening Test at Eden Park with a full hand of front-line players, it might have been a fair point. But the tourists, shorn of personnel from Northampton and Saracens as well as a number of injury victims, will be fielding new combinations in important areas and there is no guarantee that the traditional red-rose strengths – scrum, line-out and territorial kicking – will stand up to scrutiny.
Hansen may have little information about the inside centre Kyle Eastmond and the hooker Rob Webber, in for Billy Twelvetrees and Dylan Hartley respectively, and would not know some of the bench players – the prop Henry Thomas, the full-back Chris Pennell – from a stick of chewing gum, but he was standing by his argument. "We expect England to come here with confidence in who they are and in what they're doing. They've been the most improved international side in the world over the last 18 months and they're dangerous.
"They'll try to drive us up front, test our short-side defence to see if it's properly organised and attempt to turn us if the weather is wet. We need to be on level ground with them in their strong areas, so preparation is key. If that preparation isn't bone-deep, they'll exploit it."Reuse content