Monday 23 October 2017

All Blacks coach Steve Hansen implies Warren Gatland is 'bullying' referee Jaco Peyper ahead of first Test

New Zealand head coach Steve Hansen following the International Test match between the New Zealand All Blacks and Samoa at Eden Park in Auckland, New Zealand. Photo by Stephen McCarthy/Sportsfile
New Zealand head coach Steve Hansen following the International Test match between the New Zealand All Blacks and Samoa at Eden Park in Auckland, New Zealand. Photo by Stephen McCarthy/Sportsfile

Gavin Mairs

Steve Hansen, the All Blacks head coach, believes his British and Irish Lions counterpart Warren Gatland has attempted to “bully” referee Jaco Peyper ahead of the first Test in Auckland after publicly raising his concerns about the illegal use of blocking by sides in New Zealand.

Gatland claimed on Sunday that Hansen’s side consistently uses blockers to prevent opponents from competing for the ball in the air and also hold opposition players off the ball to spoil attacking plays.

The war of words between the two camps continued as Hansen hit back on Thursday, saying that he was not prepared to raise concerns about the legality of the Lions’ game.

Hansen said as it was wrong to attempt to influence match officials in a public arena and suggested Gatland had been unwise to do so.

“If I talk to you [media] about it then I am applying pressure and that is comparable to bullying him so I don't want to do that," Hansen said, when asked if he intended to raise any issues with Peyper.

“I'll just quietly talk to him on Friday and there are certain areas of the game we will talk about and they will be consistent with what everyone talked about in March (at a World Rugby referees' conference).

"Have we got concerns? We just want the referees to referee the way they said they would in March and to be consistent. Will there be mistakes? Yes there will be because they are human, just like both teams will make mistakes.

"There is no point in trying to bully the referees publicly in the media. We will talk about it in private and he will get his interpretations across of what he wants and it will be up to us to go out and deliver that."

Hansen, however, did admit that blocking was a problem across the game but insisted that that it was not always illegal.

“The referee has got the hardest job in the world, I reckon," said Hansen. "With blocking the rule says that as long as you don't change your direction of running then you are entitled to run back and help your teammate. And that is the key.

“Turn around and run back and don't change your line and if your line is the same then you are not blocking. If you run five metres to get in front of someone then you are dumb. That is dopey and in that case, Gats is quite right.

"It happens every week. If you look at the Samoa game then it happened to us and I am sure if Warren is willing and able to look closely at his own team, they have been doing it too.”

Hansen also rejected the suggestion by Gatland that the All Blacks coach was “a bit worried” ahead of the first Test as a reaction to him commenting on the Lions’ decision to call up six players as cover for the games against the Chiefs and the Hurricanes.

“You guys that know me know that I'll tell you all the time that worrying is a wasted emotion," he said.

“It's a wasted emotion because if the thing you're worrying about has happened, you need to fix it so there's no point worrying about it. And if it hasn't happened, then get a plan so you don't have to worry about it.”

Hansen, who has addressed his players about the unique history of the Lions as a motivational tool, explained his surprise decision to select Rieko Ioane on the left wing ahead of Julian Savea and Waisake Naholo was based on the 20 year-old's "electrifying speed".

“We had a look at what we were after and then looked at the whole season and we just felt that Rieko's been the guy that's been in best form throughout the year.

“He played rugby really well for the Blues when given the opportunity - not the same in the Maori game, when he didn't get many opportunities.

“He's got electrifying speed and we just think for this particular match he's the boy. I guess the proof will be in the pudding.”

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