WELLINGTON, New Zealand — All Blacks coach Steve Hansen says his side could have played ‘smarter’ in the closing minutes of Saturday night’s 24-21 loss to the British & Irish Lions, at least earning themselves a draw at Westpac Stadium.
The world champions were licking their wounds Sunday morning and preparing for Sonny Bill Williams’ judicial hearing for which Hansen predicted a guilty plea. Lions back-rower Sean O’Brien will also front a judiciary panel after he was cited for a high tackle on Waisake Naholo.
While Hansen wouldn’t be drawn on either incident, insisting the “process” had to be left to take its course, the All Blacks coach did reflect on where it went wrong for his side inside the final few minutes. Having seen Owen Farrell land the go-ahead penalty, New Zealand had the opportunity to work themselves into a position to perhaps tie the game but a lack of game management allowed the Lions to eventually clear downfield.
“I thought we were almightily courageous. Did we play well? Debatable. I thought we could play smarter than we played,” Hansen said. “But we certainly showed a lot of ticker and a lot of heart and I’m very proud of our guys because of how they did, to hang in there against the quality side that we played against and to have a chance of still winning the game…we were still in with a chance of pulling it off.
Sonny Bill Williams was show a red card following a shoulder charge on Anthony Watson. Hannah Peters/Getty Images
“So they never gave up and, as a coach, that’s all you can ask your players to do when you’re in that sort of situation. Do I want them to play smarter? Yeah, I do. Do I want them to play better? Yeah, I do. But I’m not going to sit here and get caught up about all the stuff that was happening in the game…whatever comes from that process both teams will have to accept.”
Both judiciary hearings will be held Sunday evening [NZT] but Hansen revealed the All Blacks had already decided on a replacement player for Williams with the inside centre sure to receive at least some sort of suspension.
Pressed on how the All Blacks could have played smarter inside the final minutes, Hansen agreed they should have looked to kick deep into the corners.
Sonny Bill Williams created an unwanted piece of history in Wellington, becoming the first player ever to get sent off in a British & Irish Lions Test.
The second Test between the British & Irish Lions and the All Blacks had it all. There was controversy, clinical finishing and ill-discipline. We breakdown the crucial moments in the Lions 24-21 win.
New Zealand missed the chance to clinch the series against the British & Irish Lions as they were made to pay for Sonny Bill Williams’ red card. Here’s how the men in black rated.
“That’s not a bad call, a couple of times I would have liked to have seen it,” he replied when asked if the long kick was the right option. “We probably got caught playing in between the two 10-yard marks when long left was on, long right was on. Again, it’s easy for me to sit in the box and see all that space because I’m not in the heat of the battle.
“It’s something we’ll talk about and if the occasion arises again, maybe with only 14 people on the park, if it’s a sin bin or a red card somewhere along the line, we’d like to think we’d do it better. We’ve got to learn from that experience.”
The All Blacks did a fine job playing with just 14 men for 55 minutes, only conceding the lead for the first time all series with two minutes to play.
But prop Joe Moody agreed that didn’t really make the loss any easier to digest, particularly given he has been part of an unbeaten Crusaders team in Super Rugby this season.
“I definitely soaked up the defeat a bit last night, I guess embraced that sort of s— feeling and used that for the week ahead going into this Saturday,” Moody said. “It was a little bit of a shock to the system, not a great feeling, and I’m glad that I haven’t had it that often.”
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