New Zealand rugby union head coach Steve Hansen.
New Zealand rugby union head coach Steve Hansen. Rick Rycroft

All Blacks coach admits England could break record

RUGBY UNION: All Blacks head coach Steve Hansen accepts he might lose one of the big three players he wants to retain and that England is likely to steal New Zealand's world record for the longest unbeaten streak in Test rugby.

In a frank pre-Christmas interview with Nigel Yalden on New Zealand's Radio Sport, Hansen outlined Meat Loaf's "two out of three ain't bad” scenario around retaining Israel Dagg, Aaron Cruden and Ben Smith beyond 2017.

They are the biggest names coming off contract after a year that will include a British and Irish Lions touring squad that Hansen concedes will be one of their strongest ever.

Dagg, Cruden and Smith are being consistently linked to European clubs cashed up off a recent broadcasting deal.

Hansen conceded he didn't see all three sticking around, leading to Yalden speculating one may have already signed up elsewhere.

"It's going to be touch and go I think,” Hansen said. "We're trying really hard to keep them.

"Will we keep all three of them? Probably not. But if we can keep two out of the three that'll be a positive; if we can keep all three that'll be extraordinarily positive.

"You're never going to retain everybody because we just don't have the same amount of money as the English and the French do, and that's just a reality we have to come to terms with.”

Hansen admitted the final decisions ultimately came down to the players and their wives.

"The union has been outstanding. The board and 'Tewie' (NZRU chief executive Steve Tew) and the contracting guys have worked really hard and it'll come down to what the players want to do and what their wives want them to do.

"At the end of the day, the offers have been made that are pretty fair for the players, and a big part of it is the wives themselves.

"The guys are away from home a lot, and I think they feel that they can have more time with their husbands if they go overseas, which I'm not sure is totally correct but it's the perception.”

On the challenge of England, which has won its last 14 Tests and is in position to challenge the All Blacks' tier-one record of 18 wins in a row, Hansen was also frank.

He wasn't afraid to admit that England can topple his team's record.

"Of course they can, they've got the mental fortitude to continue to get up every week and play well,” he said of Eddie Jones's men in white.

"They've got games against Italy, and you'd expect them to beat Italy, and I'd expect them to beat Scotland so they've then got the Irish game, the French game and the Welsh game.

"They'll be toughies, but we know they're capable of beating them. They went through last year undefeated so it's there for them to have a crack at.”​