Rugby World Cup

How will Hansen be remembered?

Canon Rugby in Focus: All Blacks coach Steve Hansen needs a win in the World Cup third place playoff match so he isn’t remembered for a wobbly year and abject semifinal, writes Jim Kayes.

It’s the game no one wants to play. 

Third.  There is no glory in third at a World Cup. It’s not like the Olympics where third is worth celebrating.

Third at a rugby World Cup is like eating three day old sushi.

Fourth…well, let’s not go there.

The All Blacks have eaten stale sushi twice - in 1991 and 2003 - and suffered the debilitating rotavirus of finishing fourth at the 1999 World Cup.

It’s a game World Rugby insists is played because it generates income through ticket sales and because the game is included in the package sold to broadcasters.

But fans will turn up on Friday like hungover party goers.

Steve Hansen, usually so happy to have an opinion, wouldn’t be drawn on the merits of the bronze match.

"That's not for me to comment on,” Hansen said.   “The fact is the game is there and we have to get up. They're the inconvenient facts. 

“How do we get up? We get connected again, and we set ourselves an immediate goal and we work hard to make sure we really enjoy this week.

"It will be the last week this team is together and we have an opportunity to do it well. I know in talking to the boys that we'll get a response."

It’s a game the All Blacks actually desperately need to win, and to win with a bit of style.

After being so completely outplayed by England in the semifinal, the All Blacks need to grab back some dignity.

For some this will be their last dance with the All Blacks. Ben Smith is heading away and deserves to sign-off in style.

Sonny Bill Williams and Ofa Tu'ungafasi pray after the semifinal loss to England. Photo: Getty Images

Sonny Bill Williams is ... well no one knows, but it seems unlikely his storied career will include another season in rugby.

Skipper Kieran Read is heading to Japan and will want a better final memory than the abject performance against England.

And Hansen, we now know because Eddie Jones cheekily told us, is heading to Toyota in the Japan club competition.

A win, a good win, will allow those leaving, or those taking the popular sabbatical, to depart with at least a modicum of style.

For Hansen, victory is especially crucial.  

He has been a part of the All Blacks since 2004 and has won two World Cups.

He managed the loss of legends like Tony Woodcock, Keven Mealamu, Richie McCaw, Dan Carter, Ma’a Nonu and Conrad Smith after 2015 with barely a blip in the All Blacks’ results.

The public’s memory is short. So, will Hansen be remembered more for this year’s record defeat to Australia, losing the Rugby Championship and getting smashed by England in the World Cup semifinal than any of his previous deeds?

Should we now question whether the 2015 World Cup was won because of Hansen’s coaching skills, or because of the myriad Hall of Famers he had to call on?

Surely any team with a core of Woodcock, Mealamu, McCaw, Carter, Nonu and Smith, and a rampant Julian Savea, was always going to succeed.

At the very least, they had a much better chance of succeeding.

That’s unfair on Hansen who has a remarkable record with the All Blacks but we do need to question what’s happened this year.

It is, of course, important to reward form and it has to be noted the All Blacks’ plans suffered a serious hit when Damian McKenzie wrecked his knee and Liam Squire made himself unavailable.

But around that, Hansen decided to discard the experience of Ben Smith and Ryan Crotty, allowed Reiko Ioane to wallow in his poor form and moved Beauden Barrett to fullback. 

Then, in the most important game of the year, he dropped Sam Cane to the bench and kept Sonny Bill Williams riding the pine (to be fair, I reckon that was his best use but he provided limited impact in the semifinal).

Owen Franks was also left out of the squad and though his scrummaging may have been missed, Franks would have struggled to keep up with England at Yokohama.

Franks will at least leave New Zealand rugby having won the Ranfurly Shield for the first time. 

It’s not the World Cup, and he would have loved to be in Japan with the All Blacks.

But he wouldn’t have wanted to play Wales in the battle for bronze.

There’s no lustre in that medal.

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