All Blacks switch focus to defence

Defence is about to become a priority for the All Blacks.

Coach Steve Hansen says several years spent fine-tuning their attacking game has come at the expense of their tackling technique and defensive structure.

A desire to stiffen up that aspect is partially behind the return of Wayne Smith to an assistant role in World Cup year.

It suggests the All Blacks aim to be well prepared for what are traditionally tight, low-scoring affairs in the knockout stage of the four-yearly tournament.

“There’s been a plan from day one and part of that plan was making sure we’ve got an attacking game we’re really comfortable with,” Hansen said.

“You’ve got to keep adding to that otherwise you become predictable, and hence that’s probably why our defence hasn’t been a big priority.

“Now we’ve got Smithy back so there will be a little shift over to that side and let’s see if we can sharpen up our defence.”

An All Blacks squad missing 17 players from Super Rugby semi-finalists the Hurricanes and Highlanders is undergoing a three-day training camp in Auckland this week.

Hansen and assistants Smith and Ian Foster are introducing the general playing methods to be employed this year.

More detailed work will begin next week when they focus preparation on the Test against Samoa in Apia on July 8.

Despite his fine record – he has won 38, drawn two and lost two Tests since taking over as coach in 2012 – Hansen says the world champions can’t afford to adopt the same methods.

The year has a shorter playing schedule and warrants a different attitude because of the big prize on offer on October 31.

“We can’t hide from the fact it’s Rugby World Cup year. What more could you want?” he said.

“It’s been in the back of our minds for some time and is coming more to the forefront.

“We know we can’t sit on the game we’ve got. If we do that then someone’s going to go past us like a shot.”

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