Hansen wary of underrated French
IN THE SPOTLIGHT: France's upset victory over England in the Six Nations at the weekend was the perfect result for the All Blacks' management as they prepare for the June series against France.
Coach Steve Hansen said there had been a perception amongst some in the New Zealand rugby public that France weren't any good.
But he said France's 22-16 win over England, and New Zealand's experience of them last year, had shown they were a better side than the results suggested.
As a result, the selectors have instituted their plan to have the All Blacks at a high level of readiness for the series.
"We need some preparation time so it [the preparation programme] will give us a head start to get into that," he said.
A new feature, however, was the naming of the All Blacks squad of 32 for the French series before two three-day preparation camps from May 20-22 and May 27-29.
The need for the three foundation days and two camps had been forced on the selectors because the Super Rugby franchises had started their season later, and as they had in the past, the selectors reverted to the camp policy that had been used when that happened.
Hansen said Monday's 'foundation day' was for Crusader and Highlander All Blacks while another two would be held for the North Island teams.
The get-togethers were to review what happened last year and to talk about what the side needed to do to keep getting better. There would be no other physical activity other than gym work while there would be some tweaks to their game which they wanted to implement.
"It's pretty much what the name says really, it's a foundation day to try and allow us to come together later in the year against what is going to be some tough opposition as you've seen them beat England," he said.
Much of the attention for the past two years has been on the end of year Test between the All Blacks and England but Hansen has always been aware that the Test against the Six Nations champions Ireland would also make the end of year tour a big challenge.
Ireland were always tough to beat and Hansen recalled they had been beaten by a Dan Carter dropped goal in Christchurch, an 81st minute try in Dublin, they lost to them in Chicago and they had another close contest a week after that in Dublin.
"For quite some time they've been strong and people tend to forget that," he said.
With Scotland having beaten Australia twice, pushing New Zealand hard and beating England, and France beating England, it was clear that 'northern hemisphere rugby is humming along pretty nicely', Hansen said.
He hadn't been overly surprised at France upsetting England at the weekend because, as New Zealanders knew, France were a side who could turn up or turn off.
"When they turn up they are extremely difficult to play. They're big, athletic and skilful and they've got a number of people out so they're only going to get better," he said.
Meanwhile, play in Investec Super Rugby had been physical but all New Zealand's sides were in the top eight so they had got away to a good start.
The Blues received a 'well done' from him after having a tough start against New Zealand sides and then going over to beat the top South African team, the Lions.
"The Chiefs showed a lot of character in beating the Blues the other night with their injuries and late changes and the Hurricanes again showed some great character coming back from overseas to beat the Crusaders. The Crusaders have got a lot of injuries waiting on some of their big boys to come back.
"They've started well, the loss to the Hurricanes won't affect where they end up I don't think so those reinforcements aren't far away from coming and Aaron's [Mauger] pretty pleased with the way the Highlanders have started so it's been a good start for New Zealand," he said.