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Squad depth contributes to All Blacks' success

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Lynn McConnell     17 Sep 2017     Getty Images

Much of the praise for the defensive work of the All Blacks' lineout was attributable to a plan lock Luke Romano came up with during the week, coach Steve Hansen said after the game.

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"Luke Romano came up with a really good defensive plan and the boys executed it really well and put them [South Africa] under a bit of pressure and the scrum, as the game went on, got better and better and managed to put them under a bit of pressure there too," he said.

That built on the efforts of emerging players who were all benefitting from the composure the side had shown through the early stages of the Investec Rugby Championship, Hansen said.

"The team is growing and the belief in the team is growing," he said.

Players like Ofa Tu'ungafasi was now starting to look like a Test tighthead prop while hooker Codie Taylor was able to come on to relieve Dane Coles, regarded as the best hooker in the world, and the side lost nothing and that all contributed to the confidence the team enjoyed.

Hansen said his back trio had started off a little nervously but as the game went on they grew and grew.

"I thought Rieko [Ioane] was outstanding and Nehe [Milner-Skudder] took the opportunities that were given to him and Damian [McKenzie] is that busy wee fellow at the back isn't he? You just don't know what he's going to do when he gets the ball," he said.

Ioane fitted former All Black player and coach Earle Kirton's description of having 'a lot of gas' and he had become a crowd favourite. Every time he touched the ball the whole ground lit up.
"He's just got that ability to really scoot. He's a big man as well and he's got some footwork so he's an exciting young man and we've just got to make sure we keep growing him, he's not the finished product by there's plenty to work with," he said.

While McKenzie had dropped an early high ball and dropped a pass he had grabbed his composure and that was a good sign for a young player and he was starting to understand what Test rugby was all about and all the pressures that come with it, he said.

Hansen said they were proud of the performance and it was evidence of their work in trying to get better all the time.

"We've been working on different things and we came into tonight pretty clear on how we wanted to play and what we wanted to achieve and a lot of those things came off tonight so we're pretty happy," he said.

Captain Kieran Read said the side's defence was the highlight for him.

"The Boks threw everything at us. To be honest that first half felt like it went bloody quick. It was a pretty intense half of footy. I didn't know how we were up by how many points, it just felt like it was tit for tat. It just felt like we got four opportunities and we took all four of them," he said.

The defence had stayed strong and in the second half especially their composure held and they showed how much they wanted the win.
Hansen paid tribute to departing defence coach Wayne Smith who was involved with his last game in New Zealand but he will continue with the side until the last Bledisloe Cup Test in Brisbane.

"His story is a lot bigger than tonight. He's been a wonderful servant to New Zealand rugby and for him to go out tonight the way he's gone is only fitting because he's been a great coach. He's still got some games to go before he finishes fully but this is his last one at home," he said.

Backs coach Ian Foster said he was happiest with the adjustments the backs made from what they saw in front of them.

"There's not just one thing you do in rugby, you've got to keep adapting in different situations and so we got better at that. We still weren't perfect, there were parts of that second half we had a few opportunities and we struggled a little bit but overall we got a lot more right than wrong," he said.

There had been a jittery start with bobbled ball but Hansen said once the side got into the rhythm of the game they played as well as they had for a long time.

South Africa were a better side than the score suggested. The All Blacks had taken opportunities when they occurred while the Springboks probably didn't, he said.

"Our defensive work was probably as good as we've ever had it. That made a big difference, but I think they are a good side and the scoreboard probably doesn't reflect the margins between the two teams," he said.