The All Blacks are working hard on their tackle technique after two players were sin-binned in the win over Namibia, as coach Steve Hansen admitted it was inevitable that a card would decide a big game later in the tournament.
Props Nepo Laulala and Ofa Tu'ungafasi both spent 10 minutes in the bin for similar high shots as Namibian players fell into the tackles in the All Blacks’ 71-9 win.
“If you look at both those tackles, the guys are falling at their feet, the game is played at speed, it’s fluid, it becomes very, very difficult,” he said.
“Are we working on how to deal with a ball carrier falling over in the middle of a tackle? Because most of the other tackle technique stuff we’ve worked on for years and we’re okay,” he said.
“We said last night the yellow cards are under the guidelines, they were fair. But the game is incredibly difficult under those guidelines when players are falling at your feet.
“There are certain things we’re going to have to make sure we do and you can’t have an arm behind your shoulder cause it looks like a swinging arm. I won’t get into a lot of detail because it’s something we’re working on it and I’m sure everyone else is.”
Hansen said it was more than likely that a card would decide one of the knockout games later in the tournament, necessitating more work on the training field.
“I’d say so [it’s inevitable], but again we all know what the guidelines are and we’ve got to work hard at it. There’s no point moaning about it,” Hansen said.
“It’s being able to recognise quickly they are falling and how to pull out of a tackle or how to do a tackle differently.
“I don’t know if it’s avoidable, but we’ve got to find a way because the rules aren’t going to change.”
Despite an increased focus on player safety that had resulted in a record number of cards at this World Cup, Hansen said intimidation would also play a role in the game.
“Our game is about intimidation. Some people might not want to hear that but that’s a fact. It’s about me dominating you and you do that, legally, not illegally, but it’s a physical game and it always has been and always will be,” he said.
“It’s one of the components of the game that players, coaches and fans enjoy about it.”
Hansen was confident that the game would a find a balance between allowing that physicality to remain and player safety.
“I think there’s been a consequence to the fact that a couple of people have been very seriously injured in tackles, in some cases, actually passed away,” Hansen said.
“As keepers of the game, and players of the game and coaches of the game, we've got a responsibility to respond to that and do it as best we can.”
Hansen was prepared to offer another mitigating factor for the “disappointed” Laulala and Tu'ungafasi, beyond the Namibian ball carriers falling into the two tackles.
“They’re disappointed because they don’t want to be seen as players who are trying to hit people in the head. No one goes out to do that, by in large, there’s the odd exception to that rule,” Hansen said.
“Particularly for those big boys, their agility is not the same as, you know, the bloke that was sitting here before [Beauden Barrett]. He can change direction on a sixpence.
"Some of those bigger boys take a wee bit of time. It’s like a big boat versus a little boat. Titanic didn’t move quick enough and sunk,” Hansen said to laughter from the media pack.