CAPE TOWN – All Black coach Steve Hansen’s 14-man tactic in their warm-up game against Tonga should be seen as good preparation rather than arrogance.
New Zealand on Saturday concluded their World Cup preparations with a 92-7 thrashing of Tonga in Waikato as they ran in 14 tries.
While the scoreline raised some concerns about the state of Pacific Islands rugby and the alarming gap between them and tier-one nations, Hansen’s approach also became a talking point, with some in rugby labelling his decision to finish the last 15 or so minutes of the game with 14 men “arrogant”.
Hansen afterwards explained that he deliberately forced his side to finish one man short in order to put more pressure on them ahead of the World Cup.
“We ran out of reserves and Ryan (Crotty) only needed to play for 65 minutes on his return,” Hansen was quoted as saying on www.nzherald.co.nz
“Obviously his welfare was more important and it was a good opportunity again to put ourselves under a bit of pressure when it comes to how many we have on the park."
“We had to make that choice and the score told us we could make that choice with relatively low risk.”
While unusual, what did the All Blacks have to lose from it?
Not even direct intervention from the rugby gods would have helped Tonga come back, and with the game having been in the bag long before that, not experimenting – in any which way – would have almost certainly been a lost opportunity.
Also, putting a player back on after they had exhausted all their resources would have been an unnecessary risk to take less than two weeks out from the World Cup.
As Hansen said, the move was to put themselves under pressure with the numerical disadvantage – something that could make for a handy experience if they had to get carded during the World Cup.
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New Zealand would have taken quite a bit from the application of the tactic as Tonga kept them scoreless while they were one man down, while they also scored their only try of the match through captain Siale Piutau in that last quarter. They saw what could happen in that situation and they’d now know a little more about how to handle it.
Again, it’s a move I see as clever as opposed to arrogant or disrespectful towards Tonga. And whether the tactic was always the plan or not, doesn’t really matter.
While it was very different, Springbok coach Rassie Erasmus and his squad were the first to arrive in Japan ahead of their final World Cup game against the hosts in an attempt to acclimatise to the testing conditions.
It was in no way similar to Hansen’s approach, but it was something the SA director of rugby decided on in order to best prepare themselves for what lies ahead.
The same can be said about Hansen’s tactic. Sure, maybe he only decided on it during the game after he had seen that they were safe, but point is, it was done to equip themselves as best they can before their opener against the Boks in Yokohama next Saturday.
In sport you have to do whatever it takes and prepare as best you can to set yourself up for success. And while the route Hansen took might have been rather different, it was done with an eye on exactly that – preparation.