New Zealand coach Stephen Kearney refused to blame Friday’s Test loss to Australia on the three Warriors players made unavailable after breaking team policy last week.
Kiwi regulars Manu Vatuvei, Ben Matulino and Bodene Thompson were all overlooked for the annual mid-year Test after being alleged to have mixed prescription medicine with energy drinks last week.
Already without injured stars Roger Tuivasa-Sheck, Simon Mannering, Peta Hiku, Shaun Kenny-Dowall, Dean Whare, and Jared Warea-Hargreaves, the Kiwis needed all the help they could get.
Five-eighth Kieran Foran was also missing due to personal leave.
But Kearney denied the trio had let their country down, saying they might not have been picked.
“The side didn’t get named until Sunday night and they were issued the breach on the Friday or Thursday. “There were no guarantee of being picked,” he said.
“But they certainly didn’t let myself or the team down, they let themselves down.”
A depleted line-up instead defended stoutly against an Australian line-up that had over 50 plays inside the Kiwis’ red zone, conceding just two tries before Blake Ferguson sealed the win in the dying minutes.
Despite the 16-0 scorline, Kearney was more than buoyed by his team’s defensive effort.
“It’s a term that’s often used, (but) I really didn’t think the scoreline reflected the effort, certainly that our boys put, in defence,” he said.
“I was really pleased with how they defended, the courage that they showed. We just weren’t as effective as we would’ve liked to have been with the football.”
Kearney bemoaned his side’s inability to post points when Kangaroos winger Semi Radradra was sin-binned for a professional foul on Kevin Proctor early in the first half.
“After the fact, I think you could say it was fairly crucial,” he said.
“We didn’t maximise the opportunities with Semi off the field. They really picked up the tempo and we didn’t have a great deal of opportunity.”