Steve Hansen surprised at All Blacks domination
Saeed Khan (AFP)
The ease with which New Zealand wrapped up the 2016 Rugby Championship in record time has even surprised their usually confident coach Steve Hansen.
"To be really honest, no," Hansen admitted when asked if he expected his All Blacks to be so dominant this year after losing several stars, including legends Richie McCaw and Dan Carter, after winning the World Cup 11 months ago.
The All Blacks claimed the Rugby Championship on Saturday with two games to spare after they beat South Africa 41-13 in Christchurch and Australia then denied their nearest rivals Argentina a point with a 36-20 victory in Perth.
The six-try thrashing of the Springboks gave the All Blacks a maximum five points and moved them to 20 after four games while Australia moved into second place but are 11 points behind and cannot over take the New Zealanders.
It is the first time the outcome of the southern hemisphere championship has been known after only four rounds.
Hansen said he knew he had some talented newcomers in his squad this year but was concerned whether they could fill the void created by losing more than 800 caps worth of experience following the World Cup.
"The thing we lost most was experience and the thing I'm most pleased with is how Reado has stepped up to the plate," Hansen said, crediting the leadership of Kieran Read who has replaced McCaw as captain.
"His leadership group have stepped up to the plate and taken over and probably gone to another level."
The All Blacks runaway success this year has been attributed to New Zealand's policy of always grooming understudies, paving the way for a near seamless transition from a World Cup squad to a rebuilding unit.
It is a policy that left new South African coach Allister Coetzee envious as his side has lost their last three games and only won three of seven since making the World Cup semi finals.
New Zealand's transition "has been very very good, unlike in our case," he said.
Hansen made clear that policy will continue with the championship already wrapped up and he is likely to bring new blood on line for the remaining two games away to Argentina and South Africa with a northern hemisphere tour to follow.
"We're getting to that point in the season where we have to roll the dice anyway," he said after keeping a consistent line up so far this year.
"You can't keep playing the same athletes the whole time and expect to have that same zing.
"We're coming to the end of the season when we go round the world twice in eight weeks and play seven Test matches so we're going to have to use the rest of the squad.
"That will probably start in Argentina and there might be some new faces on the bench and maybe even playing. We have to play it smart."
The All Blacks have not been seriously challenged in the Rugby Championship, scoring 169 points, including 24 tries in their four matches so far.
Argentina, while slipping to the bottom of the ladder, have the second highest points scored tally of 91.
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