Hansen comes to defence of under-fire Read

Kieran Read (left) and Steve Hansen. Photo: Getty Images
Kieran Read (left) and Steve Hansen. Photo: Getty Images
All Black coach Steve Hansen has leapt to the defence of captain Kieran Read in the wake of criticism of recent performances by the 117-cap veteran.

Speaking before tomorrow’s test against Italy in Rome, Hansen hit out at reports suggesting the 33-year-old loose forward may no longer be good enough for the test arena.

"Some of those articles are ridiculous and been written by people that have never been in our environment. We’ve never seen them at a rugby game. He’s going well. He’s in the best shape he’s been all year," Hansen said of Read, who had back surgery earlier this year.

"He’s had some tough moments during the course of the year, which I think have been great for him.

"First of all, his back was a career-ending possibly, so he had to deal with that. He’s had some learnings on the track as a leader and he’s come through that fine."

Hansen also did not condemn Read for the knock-on that proved a missed chance for the All Blacks to score in their 16-9 defeat to Ireland last weekend, the first time the nation had lost in Dublin.

"He dropped a ball against Ireland last Saturday. That was pretty costly, he knows that and he’s bitterly disappointed but that’s rugby. Sometimes that happens," the 59-year-old said.

"You’ve just got to be strong enough to believe in who you are but, as I say, he’s well supported so his position’s not under threat."

The top-ranked All Blacks complete their November tour with their 14th test of the year, having won 11 and lost twice.

"The one constant thing about the All Blacks is pressure and you wouldn’t want it any other way because it’s what’s made us over the years the team we are," Hansen said.

"That external expectation is really, really high so what do we have to do internally? Well, we have to have even higher expectations of ourselves.

Meanwhile, wing Luca Sperandio has been drafted in for the injured Mattia Bellini in the only change to the Italy side.

Coach Conor O’Shea has kept faith with the side that lost 26-7 to Australia in Padua last weekend, when Bellini scored Italy’s only try.

"A great challenge awaits us against the current world champions. We must have the same approach against Australia in the field," O’Shea said.

"We want to end the November test matches with a good performance playing our best rugby."

Italy has lost to Ireland and Australia this month but did beat Georgia 28-17 in Florence, where Sperandio started the match.


New Zealand v Italy
The teams

New Zealand: Damian McKenzie, Jordie Barrett, Anton Lienert-Brown, Ngani Laumape, Waisake Naholo, Beauden Barrett, TJ Perenara, Kieran Read (c), Ardie Savea, Vaea Fifita, Scott Barrett, Patrick Tuipulotu, Nepo Laulala, Dane Coles, Ofa Tu’ungafasi. Reserves: Nathan Harris, Karl Tu’inukuafe, Angus Ta’avao, Brodie Retallick, Dalton Papali’i, Te Toiroa Tahuriorangi, Richie Mo’unga, Rieko Ioane.

Italy: Jayden Hayward, Tommaso Benvenuti, Michele Campagnaro, Tommaso Castello, Luca Sperandio, Tommaso Allan, Tito Tebaldi, Braam Steyn, Jake Polledri, Sebastian Negri, Dean Budd, Alessandro Zanni, Simone Ferrari, Leonardo Ghiraldini (c), Andrea Lovotti. Reserves: Luca Bigi, Cherif Traore, Tiziano Pasquali, Marco Fuser, Johan Meyer, Guglielmo Palazzani, Luca Morisi, Edoardo Padovani.

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