Monday 18 December 2017

Hansen ups the ante on Gatland as All Blacks turn on the style in Samoa stroll


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: 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: Sportsfile

Ruaidhri O'Connor in Rotorua

After watching his New Zealand side run in 12 tries in an impressive 78-0 hammering of Samoa, Steve Hansen continued to apply pressure on Lions coach Warren Gatland ahead of the Test series between the two sides.

The All Blacks supremo has already stolen a march on his opposite number, revealing his plan to call new players into the squad for the clash with the Chiefs on Tuesday.

Gatland is set to confirm those players over the weekend, with five to six set to be drafted in. They are expected to be largely drawn from the Welsh and Scotland squads given those two teams are currently stationed close by, with Wales in Auckland and the Scots in Sydney.

The new recruits will be brought in largely to help ring-fence the Test 23 and ensure they don't feature in the week of the Eden Park opener.

Six new additions would bring the squad to 46 players even with Stuart Hogg having left New Zealand and Hansen has compared the move to Clive Woodward's unwieldly number on the ill-fated 2005 tour.

"Do I think it's a good move? He clearly wants to bring them in so he can have two squads. Asking guys to play Test matches and then a midweek game is tough, so it's probably a smart play," he said.

"It's about as many as Clive (Woodward) brought in now. Although he was probably proven right, wasn't he? He should have brought them in the beginning."

The Lions take on the Maori All Blacks this morning in what is being billed as their fourth Test and need a response after the midweek side lost to the Highlanders on Tuesday and after the All Blacks' impressive showing yesterday morning.

And Hansen has questioned whether Gatland truly has hidden anything back as he has been suggesting in the build-up to the series.

"He keeps telling up he's got something up his sleeve other than his arm so we'll wait and see, won't we?" the World Cup winning coach said. "He's started running out of time to get the practice. I've always said, once you have the style that works for you, you usually stick with it, so it's going to be a big move if he changes.

"I'll look forward to it though, we're sitting here and we're finished for the weekend and we've come out with no injuries and we get to sit down now and get really excited about what's ahead of us which is the Lions.

"We wait 12 years for them to come around so we don't want to miss it and we get to watch them tomorrow night to play the New Zealand Maori who will throw the kitchen sink at them.

"A big game, then all the banter's out of the way, isn't it? We're into it, and I can't wait."

The Lions opted not to provide any update on Owen Farrell's recovery time as the English back sat out training after straining his thigh on Thursday. He is in a race to be fit for the first Test in a week's time.

Hansen was expecting the Saracens man to line out at inside centre, with Johnny Sexton at No 10, and he says the injury could be a huge blow to the tourists.

"He'd be a massive loss. He's a world-class player and right up there. Where do I think he'll play? Probably at 12. He (Gatland) has said he's got something else up his sleeve other than his arm and that might be one of them. It doesn't matter where he plays, he's a good player and we just have to deal with whatever the Lions decide to do with their selections. But he's a world-class player and there's a lot of respect for him in our group."

Irish Independent

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