Coach Hansen predicts All Blacks will improve

LONDON • The All Blacks have "plenty of room" for improvement and have not reached their potential, coach Steve Hansen said yesterday, ahead of a three-Test rugby series against the British and Irish Lions in New Zealand.

He told The Times of London that the squad were breaking in new players and re-establishing themselves after the loss of stars such as Dan Carter.

"I am very happy with where we got to at the end of 2016," said Hansen. "Has it reached its potential? I don't think so. I still think there is plenty of room for us to improve.

"Clearly we lost a lot of experience and leadership after the World Cup in 2015, so last year was about re-establishing ourselves and putting a marker back in the ground about how we want to be and I see this year as a continuation of that."

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Hansen dismissed fears that fly-half and rugby world player of the year Beauden Barrett may not measure up to the Lions' kickers.

"I don't think we've lost a Test match through his goal-kicking," said Hansen. "People are panicking because he's not goal-kicking for the (Wellington) Hurricanes.

"I don't care (that he isn't the Hurricanes' first-choice kicker). I know he can mentally cope with the task of goal-kicking in the arena.

"As long as he is doing his training and going through his skill acquisition of goal-kicking through the week, then it doesn't worry me if he is goal-kicking on Saturday or not."

The Lions, whose only Test series victory in New Zealand was in 1971, arrive today at the start of a nearly six-week tour.

Warren Gatland, the Lions coach, has declared the series to be the "ultimate challenge" as he returns to his native New Zealand.

Gatland, who earned 17 All Blacks caps from 1988 to 1991, told London's Daily Telegraph that he could not pass up the opportunity to play rugby's world champions.

A Lions tour once every 12 years is one of the most anticipated sporting events in New Zealand, and the three Tests were sold out long ago.

REUTERS, AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on May 31, 2017, with the headline 'Coach Hansen predicts All Blacks will improve'. Print Edition | Subscribe