New Zealand coach remains respectful of dogged opponents but the truth remains that Warren Gatland’s Lions fell far short of requirements in Auckland
It’s an immutable truth that anyone who says “I don’t mean to brag” is about to do exactly that, just as the words “with the greatest respect” will surely be followed by anything but. Late on Saturday night Steve Hansen managed to use both, back-to-back, in his post-match press conference at Eden Park. Hansen was asked about his pack. He gave a good answer, spoke about how well they had played, and how their work was the foundation of everything his team had done. Then he paused, thought, and added: “You don’t become the No1 side for as long as we have been, with the greatest of respect, I don’t want to sound like I’m bragging here, but you don’t do that unless you have a very good tight five.”
Hansen looked like the dog who got away with stealing a chop from the kitchen counter. “I always find it amusing when people tell us they’re going to beat us up in the tight five,” he continued, “because we’re not just a team that play fantasy rugby. We play down and dirty rugby too. And,” he added, “I mean down and dirty in the most respectful way.” The most respectful way would have been to not mention it at all. Hansen’s team had already made his point for him, overwhelmingly so, and they had done it, from the Lions’ point of view, in the most exhaustive, excruciating, detail. For the Lions, the first Test was one long lesson in how much better they needed to be.