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Gatland vs Hansen: Forget the headlines about a rivalry, because there isn’t one

By Jamie Wall
Warren Gatland and Steve Hansen

We’re almost at the finish line of what seems like an eternal New Zealand representative season. It really does seem like an age ago we were covering the British & Irish Lions tour, but it almost seems fitting that it’s going to end where it began – with Steve Hansen facing off against Warren Gatland.

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Is it because this is one of the titanic rivalries of rugby? Not really, Hansen owns Gatland in the match up stakes at 12 wins to one. Is it because of the brand of rugby the two teams are capable of? Unlikely, given that the All Blacks are clearly tired and the Welsh laboured to a turgid win over Georgia last weekend.

The real answer is that there really isn’t a reason, but everyone likes to to think there’s one.

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Gatland’s year has been interesting, to say the least. He returned to New Zealand as the coach of the Lions, improbably almost winning a series and most definitely winning few friends. If his goal at the start of the tour was to show that he was capable of being All Black coach then he failed, and then had to field criticism from Irish flanker Sean O’Brien that bordered on absurd.

Meanwhile, Hansen has managed to have the first serious questions about the All Blacks’ performances thrown at him in his six season tenure – on the back of an unbeaten Rugby Championship campaign and record wins over the Wallabies and Springboks, mind you. The All Blacks’ lethargy during the end of year tour has been palpable, leading eager scribes in this part of the world to start daring to tread into asking if Hansen is running the team in the right way.

But between them, there isn’t really anything to report. Neither man has much to say about the other, but there’s a level of mutual respect. Hansen can at least be empathetic to the scrutiny that Gatland is under, having been a former Wales coach himself. While Gatland hasn’t been in Hansen’s position, he’s at least worn the All Black jersey himself and will have a pretty good idea of what the job entails.

And so they meet again this weekend at Principality Stadium, with the two coaching pseudo-enemies facing down in a test match that is interesting only because it seems like the All Blacks might run out of breath before they reach the finish line.  

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Forget the headlines about a rivalry, because there isn’t one.

Of course, this game would actually worth be getting excited about if the Welsh hadn’t been cruelly robbed of their most potent attacking forces in Jonathan Davies and Liam Williams. Both men tore up the All Blacks in the Lions series, and will be sorely missed.

If the Welsh are any chance in this one, it’s up front anyway, where they can only hope that the All Blacks put in a Chicago-like performance and start botching their set piece. The pressure on Aaron Smith and Beauden Barrett needs to be relentless, but that’s easier said than done.

There’s just one other thing that Gatland and his team need to be concerned about, which is that the All Blacks have most certainly already had their banana-skin moment on this tour – last week at Murrayfield. That 22-17 win makes Hansen’s motivational job this week a bit easier, considering that there’d be more than a few All Blacks walking off the pitch relieved that they weren’t the first side to ever lose to Scotland.

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So forget about any manufactured coaching duel. The real story of the weekend is one banged up team vs one that clearly can’t wait to get back to the NZ summer.

LISTEN TO THE SHORT BALL PODCAST:

READ MORE:

Wales suffer crucial injury blow before All Blacks test

Gatland delighted by North’s return

Analysis: How the All Blacks unleashed Sonny Bill Williams against Scotland

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Turlough 4 hours ago
Jean de Villiers' three word response to 'best in the world' debate

This ‘raging’ debate is only happenning in media circles and has never been a topic in Ireland (although SA media are interested). It makes the media companies money I guess. SA are RWC champions and #1 ranked team although Ireland are back within a point there. The facts point to SA. For a lot of 2021 France beat ALL their rivals and Ireland similar in 2022-2023. It is not wrong to say that on such form either can be deemed to be the current best team if they have beaten all their rivals and ranked #1. The ‘have to have won a world cup’ stipulation is nonsense. The world cup draw and scheduling has been tailored to the traditional big teams since the start. The scheduling also which sees the big teams sheltered from playing a hard pool match the week before has also been a constant. It is extraordinary that for example France have made so many finals. Ireland who were realistically only contenders in 2023 were in a Pool with two other top 5 teams and had to play one of them 7 days before a quarter final against France or New Zealand. Always going to be a coin toss. Scotland’s situation was worse. New Zealand had great chances in 1995, 1999, 2007 but they could not win a tight RWC match. The first tight match they ever won was versus France in the 2011 final, literally they lost every other tight match before that. Some of those NZ teams around that era were #1 surely?

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