All Blacks’ World Cup winning coach Steve Hansen has skewered South Africa’s Jacques Nienaber and British and Irish Lions coach Warren Gatland for playing a brand of rugby in their recent series that he says has “turned people off” the sport.
Hansen became the latest, and by far the most influential, observer to accuse South Africa of playing a boring brand of rugby, in a New Zealand radio interview sure to inflame the All Blacks’ great rivals ahead of their 100th Test match in Queensland next month.
“You’ve got two big packs and two coaches who don’t have any belief in what’s going to happen if they throw the ball around, so they just beat each other up,” Hansen said on NZ radio station Newstalk ZB on Sunday.
“Let’s slow the ball down, let’s get off our feet, do whatever we can to make sure our defensive line is stable so we can keep battering.
“It’s not a game that anybody wants to watch. Yes, we want a good physical contest, that’s what the game is about – physicality, speed, using the ball and skill.
“Could you say we saw that in that series? Of course we didn’t. And it turned a lot of people off.
“Suddenly, the All Blacks became popular again – ‘let’s hope the All Blacks can rescue rugby’. It’s not about the All Blacks rescuing rugby, it’s about everyone that’s involved in it taking some ownership and saying ‘right, we need to do something here’.”
Hansen also spoke out about a proposal from a group of former Lions players, led by Sir Ian McGeechan, who want to do away with tactical substitutions, believing that will make the game safer. Hansen said the issue with an increase in concussions in the sport was more to do with the current breakdown rules.
“I don’t agree with Ian in this instance. I don’t think changing the subs is going to help one iota, I think it actually just compounds the problem because you’d have a lot of fatigued players out there,” Hansen said.
“So for me that’s not the issue.
“The issue that we have in our game at the moment is there is no clear officiating of the rules.
“If you look at the rulebook, it talks about a ruck and it never talks about the breakdown. Breakdown is a word used more often than any other word in the game – there’s not even a rule for a breakdown and we have an old, antiquated law that says two people will bond over the ball and that’ll be a ruck.
“Well that never happens in the game.
“A lot of the injuries we’re getting are actually friendly fire, so you and I make the tackle and I knock my head against your elbow or your head.
“So we’d create a game where there’s a clear picture at the breakdown that yes, ball is quicker, the defensive lines won’t be able to set as quick; so attacking lines will be attacking against destabilised defences more often and there’ll be more space.
“I think the opportunity to be really brutal will dissipate.”
Hansen said rugby had other issues as well, inlcuding having become too complicated.
“When players don’t understand it, when people watching the game don’t understand it, when coaches don’t understand it, when referees can’t be consistent, we’ve got an issue and we’ve got to address that issue,” Hansen said.
“What we’ve tended to do over the years is add, add, add; when history will tell you that if you make something simple, by taking things away, then you’ll get more consistent at making those decisions.
“I’ve been beating my head against a brick wall for quite some time to get people to understand that we’re over-complicating it.”
South Africa, the current World Champions, won the Lions series 2-1.