All Blacks coach Steve Hansen has defended a rare off night for five-eighth Beauden Barrett in the wake of their shock loss to South Africa.
Hansen admitted his world champions let themselves down against the committed Springboks, whose unexpected 36-34 Rugby Championship triumph in Wellington on Saturday gives some hope to rival nations a year out from the World Cup.
The wayward goalkicking and questionable decision making of Barrett provided an unexpected bonus for the visitors.
In his first appearance since his record four-try, 30-point haul against Australia, Barrett was singled out for criticism.
He landed just two of six shots at goal while counterpart Handre Pollard slotted six from seven.
Barrett never positioned himself for what would have been a match-winning drop goal in the dying moments of the Test as the All Blacks pushed for a try which never came.
Hansen said it was unfair to blame proven match-winner Barrett when the team collectively fell short of their lofty standards, most notably in defence.
South Africa scored five tries despite enjoying only a marginal share of territory and possession throughout the Test.
“Sometimes in sporting events you can get things too easy and you mentally switch off a bit and when you play quality opposition they come back at you and it bites you,” Hansen said on Sunday.
“There will be a lot of learnings for us and this team hasn’t had much adversity.
“Should we have drop-kicked a goal? Yep, of course we should have.
“nd we had plenty of opportunity to and we didn’t organise ourselves.”
Barrett has a reputation for off days with his goalkicking so the poor return didn’t surprise Hansen.
“Beauden has these nights. He’s had them before and then he comes out and kicks 100 per cent the next time,” Hansen said.
“Young Pollard hadn’t been kicking well up until last night and he goes out and kicks a hundred per cent, so that’s the nature of goalkicking.”
The All Blacks will be without a third first-choice forward for the remainder of the Rugby Championship, for Tests away to Argentina and South Africa.
Tough flanker Liam Squire suffered a hand injury which is expected to sideline him for three weeks, opening the door for Shannon Frizell to wear the No.6 jersey.
Prop Joe Moody (thumb) won’t make the trip while lock Brodie Retallick (shoulder) is in serious doubt.