Before fielding questions from the assembled media in the aftermath of his side’s last-gasp victory over Ireland, Steve Hansen asked if he could make a brief statement.
The 54-year-old wanted to make it clear how highly he rated the home team’s performance.
“Firstly, I’d like to congratulate Ireland on what was a sensational performance. Early in the game, they certainly rattled us. 19 [points] down and it wasn’t the script, that’s for sure.
“Maybe another day, Ireland would have won it but we’ll take it. I think it’s important that we acknowledge the performance from Ireland. It was pretty special.”
Some critics will comment that we didn’t see the All Blacks at their very best in Dublin yesterday, but that would be to look beyond the manner in which Ireland forced them into errors. There was so much spoiling and harrying by Irish players at the breakdown and in contact that New Zealand were at times suffocated.
I think it’s really important that the Irish folk here don’t see this as the All Blacks not having turned up today. We turned up, but Ireland turned up as well. They forced the mistakes, it wasn’t because we weren’t mentally here. Because we prepared well, we trained well.
“We expected them to be tough; every time we play them they’re tough. But sometimes I don’t know if they believe they’re as tough as they are. Today, 14 points up, they knew they were in it and all of a sudden we saw a team play way beyond what we’ve seen or you guys have seen before.
“It’s not a case of us not turning up. It’s the other way around and you should give Ireland credit for that.”
Hansen shows his appreciation to Liam Messam after their victory. ©INPHO/James Crombie.
Despite highlighting the excellence of Ireland, Hansen says he maintained constant belief in his men. This All Blacks team has worked diligently to build extraordinary levels of self-confidence, a trait shared by the coaching staff.
However, there was one brief moment where that facade slipped. When Jonny Sexton stood over his 74th-minute penalty, Hansen admits that he feared it was game over. The manner in which his team reacted to getting one last chance gave him great pleasure.
If they kicked the goal it was all over. They gave us a sniff and that’s what makes us coaches very proud of them. It was special to take advantage of that.”
Hansen’s captain, Richie McCaw, agrees that Sexton’s missed penalty was a turning point on the pitch, as the All Blacks shifted from an acceptance that an eight-point lead for Ireland would be hard to recover from to the sense that it was going to be their day.
“I think when they took their shot at goal, that would have put it out to eight points. The reality is, if that had gone over, it would have been game over. But when they missed, you could sense a lift in the boys, there was still a chance.
“Perhaps in the Irish boys, you could see they were trying to eat up as much time [as possible]. In rugby, you’re never going to have momentum for 80 minutes, it’s always going to swing back. I guess our job was to try and wait for that chance, and make it happen as well.”