Rugby: England did not sneak up on All Blacks, says Hansen as Kiwis scratch heads over World Cup stunner

   England's Anthony Watson (front left) is tackled during the Japan 2019 Rugby World Cup semi-final match between England and New Zealand in Yokohama on Oct 26, 2019.
England's Anthony Watson (front left) is tackled during the Japan 2019 Rugby World Cup semi-final match between England and New Zealand in Yokohama on Oct 26, 2019.PHOTO: AFP

TOKYO (REUTERS, AFP) - An emotional New Zealand coach Steve Hansen acknowledged on Sunday (Oct 27) that losing their Rugby World Cup semi-final to England was still "gut wrenching" though they were not surprised by the quality of their opposition.

The All Blacks were beaten in every facet of the game on Saturday at Yokohama Stadium and put on the back foot from the opening whistle, with centre Manu Tuilagi smashing over for a try after just 98 seconds.

The 19-7 defeat ended the All Blacks' 18-match unbeaten run at the World Cup since they last lost to France in the 2007 quarter-finals and shattered their dream of a third consecutive World Cup.

"I'm still hurting as you'd expect, and I'm sure the whole country's hurting," Hansen told reporters on Sunday. "You come to a tournament like this and you want to win the thing.

"We got beaten by a team that was better than us ... it's gut wrenching."

Meanwhile, from politicians to punters, New Zealanders weighed in on the All Blacks' defeat with theories ranging from coaching blunders to the curse of Richie McCaw.

The 19-7 loss sparked a nationwide analysis of what went wrong.

Many callers to talkback radio suggested the result actually flattered the All Blacks, who started as overwhelming favourites in the eyes of their supporters and ended up being thoroughly beaten.

"It's disappointing. We were outplayed. Rugby is our religion and that's why it hurts," Canterbury farmer Trevor Bradley said.

Parliamentary opposition leader Simon Bridges best summed up the mood with the one-word tweet "bugger" - a popular expression in New Zealand to express surprise or frustration at an unwanted occurrence.

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern took a supportive stance, saying "it might not have been our night, but this is our team and I'm proud of them".

The New Zealand Herald said Hansen "had a night to forget, quickly" and the surprise decision to play lock Scott Barrett at blindside flanker "did not pay off as expected". Stuff.co.nz said the World Cup "was as good as lost from the opening kick-off" pointing to how the All Blacks "started cold and paid an instant price".

At the Four Kings bar in Wellington, English immigrant Phyllis blamed the All Blacks' mindset when they took the field. "They needed to try harder, play with more passion like we usually do. We didn't have the passion. We've been in New Zealand 24 years, I love New Zealand but tonight I was really proud of England."

Smashed-up Mini

While police feared the possibility of violence, the only reported incident was at an English-themed bar in Auckland where the publican's Mini car, bedecked with a Union Jack, had its windows smashed. Owner Mylam Sloan said he did not know for sure who was behind the vandalism but suspected upset All Blacks fans.

"You can assume someone has come out and seen the Union Jack on top of the car and didn't like what it expressed," he said. "I can understand a lot of people get a bit aggrieved at the loss but it was a great game and you have to give it to the English for winning."

McCaw again the jinx?

Some exasperated fans suggested double World Cup-winning All Blacks captain Richie McCaw could be to blame because he was at the stadium watching the match.

He has a history of being present at sporting events where New Zealanders have not performed up to expectations and when asked during the Rio Olympics if he was a bad luck charm, he said: "Perhaps I am... I might have to leave."

In Brazil, McCaw was present when hot favourite Valerie Adams had to settle for second place in the women's shot put, and he was also present for losses by the New Zealand men's and women's sevens rugby teams and the women's hockey team.

Golfer Lydia Ko struggled through six holes while McCaw was in her gallery. "You jinxed us again!" one person wrote on the Stuff.co.nz Facebook page. "The McCaw curse strikes again!!!" said another.

NZ Herald columnist Chris Rattue saw positives in the defeat, saying it should rejuvenate the game in New Zealand. "The drive to regain the World Cup stirs more passions than efforts to keep it, and it is from these very sorts of crashes that the All Blacks find new gears.

"A New Zealand side clinging on for a three-peat would have been tiresome quite frankly, and probably not even healthy for the game here."

While Hansen admitted that the Kiwis were outplayed, he said his coaching staff knew what was coming for them as England produced a massive defensive effort and dominated the breakdown and collision areas.

"It didn't take us by surprise, we knew we were in for a hell of a battle," he added.

"This England team hasn't just snuck up and poked us in the face. They won 18 games in a row and there's only one other team that's done that in the history of the game and that makes them a formidable side.

"We played them last year, managed to win by a point, it was a titanic struggle.

"They're a team that were coming into this tournament over the last four years with a massive amount of pain themselves.

"They've been working and working their butts off, probably mores than any other England team in history.

"They don't play a sophisticated game. Win the ball, give it to a big bloke and run hard. Win the collision and get over the gain line. That's rugby in its simplest form but it is beautiful as well.

"We got what we expected and we just have to acknowledge that on the night, they did things a little better than we did."

Hansen, who is leaving the role after the World Cup, appeared to almost let his emotions get the better of him when he was asked about his reactions immediately after the whistle when he was seen on the telephone.

"I rang my wife," he said before he paused and took a drink of water. "We had a bit of a chat."

He added that he had also talked to former coach Graham Henry and centre Conrad Smith about their quarter-final loss to France 12 years ago and the similarities in experiences.

"We mentioned the fact that it's no different. It was a gutting feeling," he said.

"Then Ted (Henry) and I spoke how well George Ford had played. Ted had quite a few comments. I did a bit of listening. And tried to do some learning.

"Then you just move on, don't you?"