Largely lost in the outrageous Eddie Jones spying accusations was his attempt to shield England from pressure attached to their Rugby World Cup semifinal. Steve Hansen had to wait a couple of days for his crack back but when his chance arrived, the All Blacks coach did not miss the mark in turning the tables on England.
In many ways Hansen’s surprise tactical selection of Scott Barrett at blindside flanker is far more important than any utterance either coach will make this week.
Selecting a third versatile, mobile, lock at No 6 allows the All Blacks to target England’s lineout, just as they did so successfully in the second half of their victory at Twickenham last November.
The All Blacks can then unleash Sam Cane’s hard hitting from the bench when England’s pack perhaps begins to tire and up the tempo further through Dane Coles. With Sonny Bill Williams and Patrick Tuipulotu on the bench, they also won’t lack physical impact.
“I’m not going to go into too much depth about that because otherwise I’ll give Eddie information he’ll have to work out pretty quickly himself. Obviously it’s strategic,” Hansen said of the Barrett change. “Sam Cane is playing lovely rugby. However we’ve made some decisions around what we want to do and how we want to play and we’ve made that change because of it.”
As for the pre-match off-field sparring, Hansen and All Blacks captain Kieran Read both laughed off Jones’ spying claims to effectively render them irrelevant. Hansen even revealed he and Jones continue to exchange text messages.
“It’s only mind games if you buy into it and we’re not buying into it. It’s allowed us to have a good laugh. I’m chuckling away, I get a text ‘how you going Steve, pretty good thanks Eddie’. He’s laughing, I’m laughing.”
Where Hansen did, however, accept the verbal challenge was by tackling Jones’ assertion that no one expects England to win and they can, therefore, waltz into Yokohama Stadium as if this is any old school ball.
Hansen knows the grand arena does funny things to even the best players who have not experienced it, and he wasn’t letting Jones or England scurry away that easy.
Jones claimed pressure is chasing the All Blacks down the street while, at the same time, attempting to absolve England of any weight of expectation.
Hansen was having none of it, serving up a not-so-subtle reminder that England failed to progress beyond the pool stages of their last, home World Cup and pointing out Jones had planned for this match since taking on the job.
— RugbyPass (@RugbyPass) October 24, 2019
“I’ve talked about pressure ever since I’ve been an All Blacks coach because we’re under pressure all the time. Early in our history we ran away from it so it was chasing us down the street but these days we’ve had to acknowledge it’s there. We’re expected to win every game.
“So, yep, there is pressure. But it would be very naïve to think that’s there’s not pressure on both sides.
“When you can publicly acknowledge that it’s on you then there’s awareness. That same pressure is running down the same street he is on. He’s trying to take pressure off his own side by trying to get everyone to talk to us about it. Again, smart move, but we’re not buying into it.
“We know we’re under pressure. We don’t need Eddie to tell us that.
. @EnglandRugby have three non-negotiables if they are to beat the All Blacks on Saturday
— RugbyPass (@RugbyPass) October 23, 2019
“He needs to work out what England is going to do with the pressure they’re under. They’ll have memories about a tournament four years ago that didn’t go that good so they’ll be under immense pressure themselves.
“To say that they’ve got nothing to lose, Eddie doesn’t believe that either. They’ve got a whole four years work resulting on one outcome so they get the opportunity to go and play another game.
“They’ve built themselves up for four years to do this job. How you deal with it in the moment will be crucial.”
Jones may get the first and last laugh in the verbal jousting but whatever spin his puts on it, Hansen has ensured England now face exactly the same scrutiny.
Sonny Bill Williams could be making one of his final two appearances for the All Blacks this weekend:
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