Super Rugby 2019: All Blacks coach Steven Hansen unfazed by shaky start

News 06/03/2019

All Blacks coach Steven Hansen isn't pushing the panic button over New Zealand's shaky start to the Super Rugby competition.

The first three weeks of the season have seen the Blues and Chiefs go winless, while the Highlanders also dropped a trans-Tasman clash with the Rebels in Melbourne last week.

Overall, the NZ franchises have a combined seven-win/eight-loss, although three of those losses have come in local derbies.  While that's a relatively small sample size, it's a far cry from the 8-4 start to last year and 50-30 for the entire 2018 regular season.

Obviously, the Australian franchises, which ended a 40-game losing streak to New Zealand opponents last May, are much improved on recent campaigns. The Brumbies also demolished the Chiefs 54-17 in week two, while the Waratahs and Reds have gone close to upsets over the Hurricanes and Highlanders.

But to some extent, those disappointing results can be attributed to the All Blacks player welfare policy, which has limited front-line internationals to just 180 minutes of play over the opening three rounds.

Hansen is unrepentant.

"I don't get too carried away with Super Rugby until halfway through," he's told NZME. "Then you start to get a clearer picture about who is doing what.

"There's a lot of stuff happening around people getting opportunities, because people haven't come back in until late.

"Everyone, included the Super Rugby coaches and us, have deemed that's the way we should treat our All Blacks, who don't finish their season until December."

"You've got to give them a break and there's always a consequence for that break. To say New Zealand teams aren't playing well, I don't think that's a fair reflection of what's actually happening."

With the Rugby World Cup looming in September, first-choice All Blacks Ben Smith and Aaron Smith were both completely rested from the Highlanders' loss in Melbourne, while the Blues were forced to replace Patrick Tuipulotu and Rieko Ioane early, as they tried to overhaul the Jaguares in Buenos Aires on Sunday (NZ time).

Captain Kieran Read, Sam Whitelock and Codie Taylor have yet to appear for the Crusaders, who are the only unbeaten NZ side this season.