The new-look All Blacks player leadership has negotiated its sternest examination since Richie McCaw moved on, believes coach Steve Hansen.
While the 29-9 win over Australia in Wellington was ultimately comfortable, Hansen was pleased his players overcame the niggardly approach of the Wallabies which threatened to turn Saturday’s Test into a scrappy affair.
The composure of captain Kieran Read was a highlight for Hansen, the No.8 showing the sort of leadership which became a trademark of his predecessor, retired great McCaw.
Vice captain Ben Smith and others in the leadership group also absorbed the early friction impressively before the All Blacks took command in the second half.
A New Zealand side who lost several veterans in the wake up of their World Cup triumph hadn’t been truly tested this year.
They swept a tired Wales 3-0 in June and burst from the blocks in a 42-8 rout of the Wallabies in Sydney.
“When you win well like we did in that first Test, it’s pretty easy to be a leader,” Hansen said.
“But (in Wellington) there were lots of distractions.
“I thought we came through it well from a leadership point of view.
“They got flustered from time to time but we’ll learn from that. To win it convincingly gives you a good feeling.”
New Zealand are in the box seat to win the Rugby Championship, heading into a third-round match against Argentina in Hamilton on September 10.
The Pumas notched a win and a loss in Tests against South Africa, who will next face Australia in Brisbane.
Meanwhile, Hansen echoed the thoughts of McCaw, who recently told English journalists that Australia’s struggles shouldn’t be celebrated.
Hansen said a strong Wallabies side was vital for New Zealand and he predicted they’ll emerge from their current malaise of six successive losses.
“Rugby is a lot more important than just us,” he said.
“We want a strong southern hemisphere base for the game and we want our closest neighbours to be really strong.
“Australian rugby is competing with sports that might be just ahead of them at the moment from a fan point of view.
“They’ll come right though, I’m confident of that. They’ve certainly got the players to be a very good side. We’ll support them best we can.”