October 8, 2017 / 8:42 AM / 8 months ago

Rugby-All Blacks coach hails 2017 performances

CAPE TOWN, Oct 8 (Reuters) - New Zealand coach Steve Hansen has hailed his side’s displays in 2017 after they completed the Rugby Championship with a 100 percent record on Saturday, making up for the disappointment of a drawn series against the British and Irish Lions.

“This year’s been a great year for us,” he said after the 25-24 win against South Africa at Newlands ensured the world champions maintained their southern hemisphere domination.

“This year, what with sabbaticals and injuries and everyone coming at us and playing the Lions early, there’s been quite a bit of pressure on,” Hansen told reporters.

“While we’ve played some rugby for 80 minutes and played really well, there’s been other games where we’ve played for 60 and clocked off. All of those things are learnings for a young team.”

Hansen suggested the team were continuing to progress after an extraordinary 2016 when, with a team in transition, they set a record 18-match winning streak before finally tasting defeat to Ireland in Chicago last November.

“The young fellas all came in and we played extraordinary rugby and it was a breeze,” he said.

“What I mean by that is mentally, for them, they were all coming in trying to test themselves and say ‘listen, we don’t need (retired captain Richie) McCaw and (Conrad) Smith and all these guys, we can still do this’.

“It became really apparent that they were all pretty talented rugby players, but none of them really got put under pressure until such time as Chicago.

“Even then they didn’t have to sleep with that rock under their towel for too long either, because they got to play them (and beat them) in Ireland, so there hasn’t been too much adversity.”

Since winning the World Cup in 2015, New Zealand have amassed 19 wins, one draw and two losses — to the Irish in the U.S. and the second Lions test in Wellington on July 1.

The All Blacks face Australia in Brisbane on Oct 21 in a Bledisloe Cup encounter, a trophy they have already retained, before they end the year with a tour of Europe in November. (Reporting by Mark Gleeson; Editing by John O’Brien)

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