Rugby

All Blacks coach Steve Hansen rotates squad, takes dig at Wales

AFP-JIJI

New Zealand coach Steve Hansen aimed a cheeky dig at Wales on Wednesday when he said this week’s third-place playoff would be like a final for the Six Nations champions.

Hansen, who steps down following Friday’s game in Tokyo after seven years in the All Blacks hot seat, admitted he was still feeling the effects of New Zealand’s “car crash” semi-final defeat by England as he made seven changes to his side.

“A lot of people might be saying there’s not a lot on it and they could throw the ball around,” he said.

“I think there is a lot on it. For them it would be like winning the World Cup if they win this one, maybe.”

Hansen, whose All Blacks were chasing an unprecedented third successive world title in Japan, compared last weekend’s stinging 19-7 defeat by England — their first World Cup loss in 12 years — to losing a loved one.

“This is the first time I’ve had to do this,” said Hansen ahead of a bronze medal game that will offer little consolation to the All Blacks, who have won 31 of their 34 meetings with Wales, last losing in 1953.

“They (England) played better than us. You can talk about it all you like but you only know what it’s like when you suffer it.

“I don’t want to compare rugby to death but it’s like someone losing a family member to a car crash.”

Hansen, however, brought in Ben Smith, a bit-part player at this World Cup, on the right wing with Rieko Ioane on the left, while Sonny Bill Williams and Ryan Crotty make up a formidable center combo.

He stuck with his first-choice half-back combination of Richie Mo’unga and Aaron Smith.

However, Dane Coles replaces Codie Taylor at hooker, Sam Cane returns at openside flanker and Shannon Frizell comes in at blindside for Scott Barrett, who resumes his more accustomed role in the second row.

“It’s a good backline,” said Hansen, whose side features six players who started the 2015 World Cup final.

“You’re pretty lucky if you can sub Goodhue and Lienert-Brown with SBW and Crotty, and Reece and Bridge with Ben Smith and Rieko.”

Hansen will bow out after 107 matches in charge, with only 10 defeats to date.

His successes include the 2015 World Cup, six Rugby Championships and a perfect eight from eight in the Bledisloe Cup, the annual series against Australia.

“I don’t want to go into what I’m going to miss,” said Hansen, who was coach of Wales the last time the teams faced each other at the World Cup, in 2003. “It’s not about me, it’s about the team.”

Looking ahead to Friday, he added: “We have to get on with it and hopefully show last week was a blip.”

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