Hansen questions referee's 'focus'

Nigel Owens (Getty Images)
Nigel Owens (Getty Images)

London - New Zealand coach Steve Hansen suggested referee Nigel Owens had not been as "focused" as he would have been for a test match after the world champions launched their tour of Europe with a 31-22 win over the Barbarians at Twickenham on Saturday.

Hansen deliberately fielded an unfamiliar-looking All Blacks team, with flyhalf Beauden Barrett captaining the side in place of the rested Kieran Read.

Regular skipper Read found himself reduced to the role of 'water boy' for this non-cap international and, with decisions going the Barbarians way (they were 17-5 up in the first half), Owens, one of the world's top officials, jokingly told him he would also be in charge for the All Blacks' tour finale against Wales in Cardiff later this month – an impossibility given Owens is Welsh.

Hansen, however, had a quick-witted reply of his own when told of that remark by Owens, who was also the referee when New Zealand beat Australia in the 2015 World Cup final at Twickenham, during a post-match news conference.

"Most of the banter came from Nigel," said Hansen. "It would've been good if he'd have reffed this one (match against the Barbarians)."

Hansen, quickly clarifying a comment that might otherwise land him in trouble with World Rugby chiefs, added: "It was a festival game, wasn’t it? And he (Owens) is like the rest of us, he's fallen into the trap of doing it.

"He did a good job, I'm not saying that he didn't, but there's no doubt in my mind that he wasn’t as focused as he would be if it was a test match...It's difficult for a player to get their head around that and it's also difficult for the ref."

Meanwhile Barbarians coach Robbie Deans, told of compatriot Hansen's comments regarding Owens, said: "I agree, I think we got the rub of the green."

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