Sydney – Beating Australia over three Tests this year to extend their grip on the Bledisloe Cup to a 12th year is more important to New Zealand than winning the Rugby Championship, All Blacks coach Steve Hansen said on Friday.
Upping the ante on the eve of the Rugby Championship opener, Hansen said the world champions had a “mental edge” over the Wallabies and new Australia coach Ewen McKenzie had a problem if he was not feeling the pressure.
The trans-Tasman Sea rivals will play two more tests this year, another in the Rugby Championship in Wellington next week and a third Bledisloe Cup encounter in Dunedin in October.
The Wallabies will need to win two of the three tests to bring the Bledisloe Cup back to Australia, something Hansen said the All Blacks would not allow lightly.
“The Bledisloe ranks just behind the World Cup, it's something special and we know it's special to the Australians so we're expecting a hell of a battle tomorrow night,” he said at the Olympic Stadium on Friday.
Since the All Blacks won the Bledisloe Cup back from Australia in 2003, New Zealand have won 21 of 27 tests between the countries with one draw in Brisbane last year.
“When you win as consistently as we have, it does put doubts in people's minds,” said Hansen, who led the All Blacks to the inaugural Rugby Championship title last year.
“But each contest is its own in its own right, and you've got to earn the right to keep that mental edge, otherwise they'll come in and do the job.”
Hansen appears determined to engage in a war of words with McKenzie and once again tore into the Australian's decision to pick Matt Toomua at flyhalf instead of his former charge at the Queensland Reds, Quade Cooper.
“He's been coaching Quade Cooper for a long time and to not pick a guy that you've publicly said you'd pick him if you were the coach, of course he agonised over it,” he said.
“I read today he's not feeling the pressure but we all do, if you're not feeling the pressure, if you can't admit that, you've got a few problems.”
McKenzie had responded jovially to Hansen's initial suggestion that he had delayed the naming of his side because of the flyhalf decision.
“I was getting worried that Steve wasn't coming over, he's been so quiet, but I'm glad he's concerned about my welfare,” he said on Thursday.
“When you coach the All Blacks, there's a lot of pressure in that job,” he added. “When the All Blacks lose, as rare as it is, it's attached to the national economy. The dollar might go up and down over there.”
One man not given to mind games is New Zealand captain Richie McCaw, who returns on Saturday to win his 117th cap in his first full match at the top level since taking a six-month sabbatical.
The fact that in his last international outing, against England at Twickenham last year, resulted in only the 13th defeat of his Test career can only sharpen his appetite for the contest.
“I feel mentally in a good shape and I've done a lot of training,” he told reporters on Friday.
“Nothing equates to Test match rugby so I've just got to make sure I do the job I've got to do.” – Reuters