Bledisloe mind-games kick off
TRANS-TASMAN WAR: The mind-games, ahead of Bledisloe Cup opener in Sydney on Saturday, kicked off in a big way on Thursday.
The mind-games, ahead of Bledisloe Cup opener in Sydney on Saturday, kicked off in a big way on Thursday.
Master baiter All Black coach Steve Hansen fired the first trans-Tasman verbal barb in the direction of the Wallabies.
Before departing New Zealand, Hansen took pot shots at star playmaker Kurtley Beale and coaching counterpart Ewen McKenzie.
Claiming to be "dumbfounded" by Beale's selection at flyhalf - ahead of incumbent Bernard Foley - the niggly All Black mentor suspected McKenzie promoted the off-contract star to the starting XV to help keep him in Australian.
McKenzie straight-batted the chirp, suggesting his team would do their talking on the field on Saturday.
"I wouldn't dignify the comment," McKenzie said.
"I picked the team to play the All Blacks, to beat the All Blacks.
"That's what I picked the team to do.
"I go about the process of selection like every other game and we picked what we believe is the right combination to do the job."
Hansen was in vintage form earlier in the day, firing a few trademark barbs the Wallabies' way as his side prepared to fly to Sydney for Saturday's match - which is also the opening encounter of the Rugby Championship.
"I was a little dumbfounded by it initially," said Hansen.
"I thought 'why would he [Ewen McKenzie] do that?' and came to the conclusion that maybe Ewen doesn't trust [Foley] to be able to do what he wants against us, or if you really think about it, the other guy [Beale] is under contract and [Rugby] League is chasing him, so you might start thinking maybe the ARU have told him he's got to pick him.
"But it doesn't matter why he has, both of them are really good rugby players, and Kurtley is certainly a guy who loves to do things differently. He'll throw a lot of inside balls to runners, and we're going to have to make sure we look after that part of the park, particularly from second or third phase play. When guys are struggling to get into position, he'll be dangerous.
"He's not as good a goal-kicker as Foley, but I guess he'll bring Foley on late in the game and if they want a goal-kicker they've got the right one on at the right end of the game."
The Wallabies, though, are saving any retaliatory strikes until kick-off, saying only that they're backing McKenzie's chief weapon of choice.
Scrumhalf Nic White and inside centre Matt Toomua, who will play either side of Beale, said the classy playmaker had made a smooth transition into the No.10 role after playing inside centre during the Waratahs' successful Super Rugby campaign.
"I think a lot of people forget that he's played 42 Tests, so he's leaps and bounds ahead of me, so he's dragging me along at the moment," White said.
Toomua noted how Beale played all his schoolboy football at flyhalf, as well as several Tests in the position and the 2008 Super Rugby Final as a teenager.
"He's not going to be overawed by this by any means," said Toomua, who will also slot into flyhalf at times during the Rugby Championship opener.
"I've played a bit there myself too. In saying that, he is calling the shots and I won't be stepping on his toes at all.
"He is the chief playmaker and we're more than comfortable having him there."
A known on-field sledger, White wasn't overly surprised by Hansen's apparent attempt to unsettle the Wallabies.
"Yeah, I don't know what his motives are there, but it's obviously interesting and it's a bit of conspiracy I guess," he said.
"But why not plant the seed if I was him?"
Sources: Sydney Morning Herald and AAP