WELLINGTON, New Zealand (AP) — Head coach Steve Hansen says the All Blacks will learn from Saturday's shock Rugby Championship loss to South Africa and will become a better team because of it.
While many hailed the Springboks' victory as positive result for world rugby, denting the All Blacks' aura of invincibility ahead of next year's World Cup, Hansen said the loss could make his team harder to beat in future.
South Africa entered the match as underdogs, having lost their last two matches in the Rugby Championships and their last six tests against New Zealand. The 36-34 win was their first in New Zealand in nine years.
The Springboks flustered the All Blacks with an aggressive defensive performance, causing their usually accurate attacking game to break down. They led 31-17 early in the second half, then weathered a strong rally by the All Blacks, defending their goalline before the final whistle sounded after four minutes of tense injury time.
The All Blacks had led 12-0 after only 16 minutes but seemed to relax, allowing South Africa back into the game. They conceded two tries in five minutes to surrender the lead and weren't able to reclaim it, despite attacking for much of the last quarter.
Hansen said the All Blacks would learn from their performance at both ends of the match — from resting on their lead and from their inability to capture a win from behind. New Zealand could have snatched victory with a dropped goal in the last minute but chose not to take it, a decision Hansen regretted.
"Sometimes in sporting events you can get things too easy and you mentally switch off a bit and when you play quality opposition they come back at you and it bites you," Hansen told reporters on Sunday. "But, as I said last night, there will be a lot of learnings for us and this team hasn't had much adversity.
"Should we have drop-kicked a goal? Yep, of course we should have. And we had plenty of opportunity to and we didn't organize ourselves."
Hansen said the All Blacks had sufficient possession to overturn the Springboks lead, but lacked precision in the crucial final moments of the match.
"With 10 minutes to go we could've won it twice over," he said. "We had plenty of opportunities, we just didn't close it out and there's the biggest learning: what have we got to do when the clock's running down (and) the scoreboard's against us?
"We've just got to take a big breath and do things right and be clinical and, if we'd done that last night, we would've won the game. But we didn't."
New Zealand had a chance to clinch the Rugby Championship with a bonus point win on Saturday but the title remains up for grabs. Its next two matches are away to Argentina and South Africa which it will face without flanker Liam Squire who has been ruled out of the remainder of the Championship with a broken hand.