WELLINGTON, New Zealand (AP) — All Blacks coach Steve Hansen was again forced to address the issue of intent to injure after center Sonny Bill Williams was sent off for a reckless shoulder charge during Saturday's defeat by the British and Irish Lions.
Williams was shown a red card in the 25th minute of the second test for a no-arms tackle which made contact with the head of Anthony Watson. The Lions winger left the field for a head injury assessment but was able to return and see out the match. Williams became the first All Black in 50 years — since Colin Meads against Scotland in 1967 — to be sent off in a rugby test.
Hansen had faced the question of intent after the first test, when Lions coach Warren Gatland suggested the All Blacks may have set out to injure his scrumhalf Conor Murray, a try-scorer the tourists' 24-21 win on Saturday. Gatland suggested New Zealand players deliberately threw themselves at Murray's legs when trying to charge down kicks, while Hansen denied his players intended to injure.
Hansen had to deal with the issue again after Williams' action was sanctioned by French referee Jerome Garces, though he also referenced the sin-binning of Lions prop Mako Vunipola for two clumsy tackles on All Blacks flyhalf Beauden Barrett.
"I don't think (Williams had intent to injure) but I'm not Sonny Bill, so I don't know what his intent was and I don't know that Jerome does either," Hansen said. "Did Vunipola intend to take Beauden Barrett's head off? I don't think so, but that's what happens in the heat of the game.
"We talked about this last week at the press conference. Things happen in the heat of the moment and players end up getting on the wrong side of the law. Are they intentional? I still don't think anyone does that, but unfortunately it happens."
Hansen said that playing 55 minutes of Saturday's match with only 14 men, holding the Lions until the 76th minute when Owen Farrell kicked the winning penalty, did not soften the blow of losing.
"It doesn't make it any easier to swallow," he said. "I told you during the week, losing sucks, whether you've got 15 (players on the field), 25 or two. Tonight was our turn to have to take it on the chin. It's all very good being good and gracious winners. Tonight we got beaten by a team that played better than we did and we have to accept that.
"But we have to go away now as an All Black team and prepare better, work harder and come out to try and win the series next week."
Captain Kieran Read said the loss of Williams forced the All Blacks to change their intended approach to the game.
"We had to be a bit smarter, I guess, in our game plan," he said. "We couldn't do exactly what we wanted to do, had to change our lineout a little bit and our attack. But other than that it's 14 guys and we just worked hard for each other. It showed when we were on top that it wasn't too much of a disadvantage."