Comedy gold as All Blacks' coach Steve Hansen declares Wallabies favourites for Bledisloe Cup

Alex Broun 21:47 06/08/2018
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You have to give it to All Blacks coach Steve Hansen. He certainly hasn’t lost his sense of humour.

Despite holding the Bledisloe Cup for the last 15 years, winning 33 of the 42 matches played during that period, and at almost unbackable odds – Hansen has declared the Wallabies the favourites for this year’s series.

That’s the same team that has beaten New Zealand just seven times in the last decade-and-a-half at a win ration of 19 per cent, including 11 losses by 20 points or more.

But it all means nothing to the All Blacks’ boss.

“After the Rugby World Cup, this is the most important trophy we play for,” he said, somehow keeping a straight face.

“We lost to Australia the last time we played them, so no doubt they’ll have a lot of self-confidence and are worthy of starting as favourites.”

Someone also needs to remind Hansen that New Zealand actually hold the Bledisloe Cup and have done so stretching back to almost last century as the 2015 Rugby World Cup winner spoke of wanting to “recapture” the famous trophy.

To do that he just needed to stroll into the NZRU offices to see the Cup is in the same spot it has been since 2003, save for being taken out once a year to be raised above the head of the All Blacks captain.

You could accuse Hansen of playing mind games if it wasn’t so laughable.

The Wallabies haven’t even got near claiming back the Bledisloe, being comfortably lapped in the annual series.

Indeed the All Blacks have only been in danger of losing the Cup twice in that period – 2007 and 2015, when they lost the first Test in the series, before comfortable victories in the remaining matches.

But in an attempt to remove complacency, Hansen continued to talk up his Rugby Championship opponents.

“We’ll face quality opposition throughout the Championship,” he said.

“Both Australia and South Africa appear to have grown their games and will come at us with real energy and conviction, while the Argentinians have a new coaching group, which will present new challenges.

“All of this means that this year’s Rugby Championship will be a well-contested competition and we’ll need to once again raise the bar across the board when it comes to our preparation, our skill levels and how we handle pressure.

“Being comfortable is not an option.”

Hansen will continue to tell himself that but when Hurricanes mid-fielder Ngani Laumape, who would currently walk into most starting Test XVs in the world, can’t even make the squad – it gives you an idea of how strong the All Blacks are.

Laumape will, however, provide cover for Sonny Bill Williams, who is recovering from a shoulder injury, while hooker Liam Coltman will cover for Dane Coles, who is expected to return to Test match rugby after a long time on the sideline due to concussion.

The squad also features two uncapped players: Crusaders prop Tim Perry and young Chiefs halfback Te Toiroa Tahuriorangi.

Another feature of the squad is the return of No8 and Captain Kieran Read, who missed the series against France through injury, while lock Brodie Retallick also returns to the side after 11 months away from Test rugby.

It’s a frightening thought what these two World Rugby Players of the Year, in 2013 and 2014 respectively, will add to an already invincible team.

The squad has a total of 1,078 Test caps and boasts the best players in the world in every position barring a few.

The All Blacks squad will assemble in Christchurch on Thursday before taking on the Canterbury and Otago provincial sides in the Game of Three Halves match at AMI Stadium on Friday night.

A squad of 32 will then head to Sydney on Sunday to prepare for the first Bledisloe Cup Test on August 18 at 13:45 (UAE time).

ALL BLACKS SQUAD

Forwards:

Hookers

Dane Coles (31, Hurricanes / Wellington, 56)

Nathan Harris (26, Chiefs / Bay of Plenty, 13)

Codie Taylor (27, Crusaders / Canterbury, 32)

Props

Owen Franks (30, Crusaders / Canterbury, 98)

Joe Moody (29, Crusaders /Canterbury, 34)

Tim Perry (30, Crusaders / Tasman, uncapped)

Karl Tu’inukuafe (25, Chiefs / North Harbour, 3)

Ofa Tuungafasi (26, Blues / Auckland, 17)

Locks

Scott Barrett (24, Crusaders / Taranaki, 19)

Brodie Retallick (27, Chiefs / Hawke’s Bay, 68)

Samuel Whitelock (29, Crusaders / Canterbury, 99)

Loose Forwards

Sam Cane (26, Chiefs / Bay of Plenty, 55)

Shannon Frizell (24, Highlanders / Tasman, 1)

Jackson Hemopo (24, Highlanders / Manawatu, 1)

Kieran Read (32, Crusaders / Counties Manukau, 109) – Captain

Ardie Savea (24, Hurricanes / Wellington, 25)

Liam Squire (27, Highlanders / Tasman, 17)

Luke Whitelock (27, Highlanders / Canterbury, 5)

Backs:

Halfbacks

TJ Perenara (26, Hurricanes / Wellington, 45)

Aaron Smith (29, Highlanders / Manawatu, 74)

Te Toiroa Tahuriorangi (23, Chiefs / Taranaki, uncapped)

First five-eighths

Beauden Barrett (27, Hurricanes / Taranaki, 65)

Damian McKenzie (23, Chiefs / Waikato, 15)

Richie Mo’unga (24, Crusaders / Canterbury, 1)

Midfielders

Ryan Crotty (29, Crusaders / Canterbury, 37)

Jack Goodhue (23, Crusaders / Northland, 1)

Anton Lienert-Brown (23, Chiefs / Waikato, 24)

Sonny Bill Williams (33, Blues / Counties Manukau, 46)

Outside backs

Jordie Barrett (21, Hurricanes / Taranaki, 5)

Rieko Ioane (21, Blues / Auckland, 16)

Nehe Milner-Skudder (27, Hurricanes / Manawatu, 11)

Waisake Naholo (27, Highlanders /Taranaki, 19)

Ben Smith (32, Highlanders /Otago, 67)

2018 Rugby Championship (all times are local)

1. vs. AUSTRALIA. Saturday 18 August, 7.45PM, ANZ Stadium, SYDNEY
2. vs. AUSTRALIA. Saturday 25 August, 7.35PM, Eden Park, AUCKLAND
3. vs. ARGENTINA. Saturday 8 September, 7.35PM, Trafalgar Park, NELSON
4. vs. SOUTH AFRICA. Saturday 15 September, 7.35PM, Westpac Stadium, WELLINGTON
5. vs. ARGENTINA. Saturday 29 September, 7.40PM, Jose Amalfitani Stadium (Estadio Velez Sarsfield), BUENOS AIRES
6. vs. SOUTH AFRICA. Saturday 6 October, 5.05PM, Loftus Versfeld, PRETORIA

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