CAPE TOWN • New Zealand All Blacks coach Steve Hansen has claimed that the inclusion of Argentina into Southern Hemisphere rugby competition has left Australia, New Zealand and South Africa stretched when they go on their end-of-year tours to Europe.
The South Americans were added to the Rugby Championship five years ago and founded the Jaguares franchise to play in Super Rugby last year.
After New Zealand capped their fifth Southern Hemisphere title victory in six years with a 36-10 win over Argentina in Buenos Aires, Hansen said that the extra travel was taking its toll.
"The long distances are always tough, but since Argentina were brought into the competition, the travel has become a big thing.
"We pay a price, not so much in this competition, but when we go on the end-of-year tour (to Europe)," he said on Monday after arriving following a two-day, three-flight and seven time-zone trip to Cape Town, where his side take on South Africa next Saturday.
"Australia, South Africa and ourselves are doing the same so it's no coincidence that since the travel has been greater, that the results have started to change a bit up north."
To try and counter the fatigue, he left six key players out of the trip to Argentina, with lock Sam Whitelock, loose forwards Liam Squire and Sam Cane, and backs Lima Sopoaga and Ryan Crotty arriving in South Africa last Friday.
Brodie Retallick was also supposed to be part of the group, but has stayed at home in New Zealand after his wife miscarried.
Vaea Fifita, Ngani Laumape, Waisake Naholo, Luke Romano and Ardie Savea - who all featured in the win on Saturday - have returned straight home.
"We struggled at times last year, this is the hardest time of the year for us, so we are just trying to think outside the box and think of ways to keep the players fresh," Hansen added.
"We're learning as we go along and that's why we are trying something a little different this time by splitting the group.
"We could have taken 32 here and 32 to Argentina, but we've decided to only bring 28 and some guys to one venue and not both."
After their last game in the Rugby Championship at Newlands on Saturday, the world champions play the Barbarians in London on Nov 4, France in Paris on Nov 11, the French Barbarians in Lyon on Nov 14 , Scotland at Murrayfield on Nov 18 and then Wales in Cardiff on Nov 25.