New Zealand head coach Steve Hansen concedes his squad have progressed better than expected this year after losing a number of crucial players.
New Zealand head coach Steve Hansen says his squad have progressed better than expected this year after losing some crucial players.
Hansen led the All Blacks to World Cup glory in October last year, before the likes of Dan Carter, Richie McCaw and Ma'a Nonu stepped away from the international scene.
With over 350 Test caps between them, that trio in particular left a large void in the New Zealand side - one which Hansen has been able to fill convincingly.
Saturday's 41-13 hammering of South Africa, combined with Australia's subsequent 36-20 win over Argentina, sealed the Rugby Championship title with two rounds remaining, and Hansen was frank when asked if he had thought his side would perform as well as they have in 2016.
"If I'm being really honest, no," he told a media conference. "I knew we had some talented people but we'd also lost a lot of talent, but the thing we'd lost the most was experience.
"I'm pleased with how Reado [captain Kieran Read] has stepped up to the plate and how his leadership group has stepped up and taken over and probably gone to another level.
"When you cut down the big trees that cast the big shadows, you'll always find people will stand up and our guys are standing up and leading well.
"All the other staff are doing everything they can so the machine is ticking along quite nicely so as a result of that we're playing good rugby."
With the title already secure ahead of a trip to Buenos Aires on October 2, before a gruelling tour of the northern hemisphere, Hansen hinted at making changes against the Pumas.
"It's getting to that point in the season where we have to roll the dice anyway and can't keep playing the same athletes the whole time and expect that same zip and zing," he said.
"We go round the world twice in eight weeks and play seven Tests so we'll have to use the rest of the squad and that will probably start in Argentina.
"There'll be new faces on the bench and playing so we'll have to be smart."