Hansen questions Irish self-belief
IRELAND lacked the self-belief to hold out for a first-ever victory over the All Blacks, according to New Zealand head coach Steve Hansen.
Kiwis boss Hansen hailed a "sensational performance" from the Irish, despite his side's last-gasp 24-22 victory in Dublin. New Zealand notched their 14th consecutive win in 2013, the first team in the professional era to register the perfect season.
Proud coach Hansen paid tribute to his side's ability to shrug off Ireland's three tries in 17 minutes, and hit back with a score from Ryan Crotty with the game's final play. Aaron Cruden's overtime conversion, at the second attempt after Ireland charged the first before he started his run-up, made history for the All Blacks.
But Hansen said Ireland should probably have held on for a first-ever victory over New Zealand in 108 years.
Hansen said: "I would like to congratulate Ireland on a sensational performance. They certainly rattled us and that wasn't the script.
"They can take a lot from their performance. But I'm incredibly proud of our 23: to claw their way across the line is a special effort.
"Maybe, another day, Ireland would have won it, but we'll take it, enjoy the summer and reflect on what's been a great year, but at the same time realise we've got a lot of work to do to stay where we are.
"But it's important to acknowledge a pretty special performance from Ireland. I think it's really important that you don't see this as the All Blacks as not having turned up.
"The All Blacks turned up, but so did Ireland. When you force mistakes, and when you're good enough to score from them you put the team suffering under pressure and you fill your own jersey up with self-belief.
"We expect them to be tough, every time. But sometimes they don't believe they are as tough as they are.
"All of a sudden we saw a team way beyond what we'd seen for a while."
Jonathan Sexton had a penalty to restore an eight-point Irish lead with six minutes to play.
Had the Racing Metro man landed that shot at goal, Hansen admitted it was effectively game over.
He said: "After half-time, we looked after the ball a bit. Had they kicked the goal, it was all over, but they gave us a sniff and that's what makes us coaches very proud of our players because it's special to produce that.
"We just knew if we backed our structures a chance would come. If we could hold onto the ball for long enough, I thought we could score."
Hansen said there was nothing controversial about the retake for Cruden's conversion that decided the contest.
He said: "The rules are the rules, it's unfortunate but you can't charge early. But who's to say if they hadn't charged he would have kicked it anyway. You have to accept that, that's the way it goes sometimes."
Captain Richie McCaw saw a year that has seen so many questions thrown at New Zealand end with the All Blacks having provided all the answers.
McCaw said: "There have been a lot of different challenges: pretty much all the top teams around the world.
"Being able to deal with those challenges, different injuries, you wrap that up and still produce good performances, then don't perform and still get home.
"Being able to deal with all that, I sit here pretty proud we've been able to do the job under all those circumstances."