Hansen: Lay off Richie!

Richie McCaw (Getty Images)
Richie McCaw (Getty Images)

Sydney - New Zealand coach Steve Hansen hit out at those who doubted his selection of returning skipper Richie McCaw and the quality of flyhalf Aaron Cruden after the All Blacks hammered Australia 47-29 at Sydney's Olympic Stadium on Saturday.

Before addressing the inevitable questions about how to manage complacency after such a thumping victory to open their Rugby Championship title defence, the former Wales coach felt the need to make a few points to the news conference.

Firstly, he addressed those who had questioned his wisdom in starting openside flank McCaw so soon after the All Blacks captain had returned from a six-month sabbatical.

Although not perhaps at his very best, the 32-year-old played 72 minutes, scored his 20th test try and was the usual thorn in the side of the Australians at the breakdown.

"For Richie to come back after having the break and everyone doubting him, to get through the 70 minutes like he did just shows the character of the bloke once again, so hopefully there won't be any more doubters," he said.

He followed up by heaping praise on flyhalf Cruden, who scored a try and 13 points from the kicking tee but most importantly ran the All Blacks attack with aplomb in place of the injured Dan Carter.

"People have questioned Aaron Cruden at times at this level and I think he showed tonight that he's a true international player of world class ability and he led the team very well," Hansen said.

Then it was back to the World Cup winning veterans with dreadlocked centre Ma'a Nonu receiving the plaudits after a typically rampaging performance in midfield in his 80th test.

"Ma'a Nonu struggled all week with an ankle injury and probably played one of his better games for the All Blacks and he's had some good ones," said Hansen.

The final words of Hansen's statement were reserved for a player all but forced upon him by the late withdrawal of blindside flank Liam Messam through injury - Steven Luatua.

"Last but not least, a young man who came into the side with five minutes to go at training on Thursday and played his first full international," Hansen said.

"I thought Steven Luatua was quite outstanding in his performance."

McCaw, who gave up a couple of early penalties and fumbled one pass early in his 117th Test, said he had enjoyed being back in international rugby after missing the three-match series against France in June.

"I was just excited to be out there and run around," he said.

"The first 20 minutes I was a bit over-eager at times but I settled into it. But it was good fun to be involved again."

Hansen said the All Blacks had injury concerns over lock Luke Romano (groin) and Cruden (knee) and that Messam would not be fit for the return Test against Australia in Wellington next weekend.

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