August 01, 2012
Steve Hansen says lack of Australian involvement in the last two weeks of the Super competition would have allowed Wallabies coach Robbie Deans to focus his full attention on the inaugural four-nation championship. Photo: Getty Images
THE rested Wallabies will have a big advantage in their preparation for the inaugural four-nation Rugby Championship to be held in Sydney on August 18 and Auckland on August 25, according to All Blacks coach Steve Hansen.
Top players from New Zealand and South Africa were involved in taxing Super Rugby semi-finals last weekend and one team from each - the Chiefs and Sharks - are spending this week preparing for the final in Hamilton on Saturday.
Australia's only play-off contenders were the Reds, who were knocked out 10 days ago in the qualifying round.
Hansen said yesterday that the lack of Australian involvement in the last two weeks of the competition would have allowed Wallabies coach Robbie Deans to focus full attention on the inaugural four-nation Test championship.
''I think it's a big advantage to them,'' he said. ''The more preparation time you have, the better chance you have of getting your game organised and your structures built in and the clarity.''
Hansen is overseeing a two-day All Blacks camp in Wellington this week. There are no Chiefs players among the 28 assembling for the camp.
Deans has gathered a 36-strong squad in Sydney for the second of two Wallabies training camps.
The Wallabies were caught out by a lack of preparation when the players were stunned by Scotland in June, just days after a round of Super Rugby matches.
The All Blacks made a better fist of their opening Test of the season, beating Ireland in handsome style.
''We were very fortunate that we managed to, in a very short period of time, get that sorted against Ireland,'' Hansen said.
''But the Rugby Championship is going to be a totally different contest.''
Meanwhile, the All Blacks midfield mystery has been resolved, leaving lock as the biggest selection question mark ahead of the naming of the squad on Sunday.
Hansen confirmed departing inside-centre Sonny Bill Williams would wear the No. 12 jersey for the first two Tests against the Wallabies.
Williams is expected to get permission to play the Tests from Japanese club Panasonic, delaying the start of their lucrative deal.
Veteran Test inside-centre Ma'a Nonu and Tamati Ellison will be Hansen's prime candidates at centre in place of the injured Conrad Smith, while utility Ben Smith is a fourth midfield option.
''It's obvious that we're interested in using Sonny for a couple of weeks while he is still contracted to New Zealand, particularly as Panasonic are going to come to the party and support us,'' Hansen said.
''We'd be foolish not to use him. He's in outstanding form.''
■ NSW is in the market for a new Super Rugby coach after Michael Foley handed in his resignation yesterday.
The Waratahs confirmed Foley's decision to leave the club after just one year, with reports suggesting he will soon be announced as the new mentor of rival Australian franchise the Western Force.
The Australian coach of French league side Stade Francais, Michael Cheika, has been repeatedly linked to the Waratahs job after turning down an offer to coach the Force.