Ben Smith Rugby World Cup: All Blacks coach Steve Hansen hoping to crack defensive nut

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Ben Smith All Blacks coach Steve Hansen feels the modern game has swung heavily towards defence and is hoping to be able to conquer that at the World Cup.

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All Blacks coach Steve Hansen feels the modern game has swung heavily towards defence and is hoping to be able to conquer that at the World Cup.

All Blacks coach Steve Hansen hopes he has the “nut cracker” in his tool box at the Rugby World Cup to burst open a defensive vice he believes is gripping the modern game.

As his side prepare to face Tonga in Hamilton on Saturday, Hansen had time to mull over the notion that teams were becoming more evenly matched across the board, ahead of New Zealand’s quest at a historic three-peat of World Cup titles.

The current world rankings are as tight as ever, and while there have been some recent high-scoring affairs or blowouts in tier one versus tier one contests, they have certainly been the exception to the norm over the last few years.

Ben Smith Shutting down ball carriers is such a big focus of the game these days.

ANDREW CORNAGA/PHOTOSPORT

Shutting down ball carriers is such a big focus of the game these days.

At the last World Cup the average margin between teams was 22 points, down from 25 in 2011, 30 in 2007 and 33 in 2003, as tier two sides start catching up. 

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And while the All Blacks managed nine tries in a topsy-turvy two-game Bledisloe Cup series this year, it was their four tries in their previous four tier one tests (excluding the Italy romp in Rome), that have Hansen wary of the game’s current style – where rush defence have very much become in vogue – and hopeful they can break the shackles when it counts in Japan.

“I think there’s a bias towards the defence,” he said of the current style. “I think that’s definitely happened. And then because of that, everyone thinks we are closer than we probably really are.

“But someone’s going to crack that defensive nut, because history tells us it will happen.

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