All Blacks: Coach Steve Hansen calls for four-month off-season to reduce player fatigue

All Blacks coach Steve Hansen is calling for a four-month off-season for rugby’s elite players to avoid burnout.

The All Blacks thumped Australia 37-20 in Yokohama on Saturday to complete a 3-0 Bledisloe Cup whitewash, but Hansen warned that players would continue to risk injury unless they got enough rest.

The defending back-to-back world champions face Japan next week, before flying to Europe, where they'll face England, Ireland and Italy to round off their season.

Hansen is sending his strongest 23 players to England - most likely the squad that faced Australia on the weekend - a week early to begin preparations for the England test, while 19 additional players have been called in to play the Japan test, before returning to New Zealand.

The week's rest might benefit some of the All Blacks' senior players to help them get through the final few weeks of the season.

Hansen said players would only continue to get fatigued until the introduction of a global season, something the All Blacks boss is a supporter of.

Beauden Barrett scores a try against the Wallabies in Japan.
Beauden Barrett scores a try against the Wallabies in Japan. Photo credit: Photosport

"[I] don't want to be awkward, but for us, we've chosen before this tour started to take it really one game at a time and not get ahead of ourselves," said Hansen.

"So, if I start talking about England, I'm breaking what we said we were going to do, but you can rest assured we've got a lot of respect for England. We think they're a good side.

"They've got one or two people that are injured at the moment, but so does everybody - that's the nature of the beast at the moment. That's why I keep harping on about the need for a global season that looks after the welfare of the players.

"They don't get enough of a break. You can't keep going round and round and round without running out of petrol - at some stage, you've got to recharge the tank."

The All Blacks' senior players were required to take two Super Rugby games off during the 2018 season, after a gruelling 2017 campaign.

This time last year, New Zealand slipped up in their final Bledisloe Cup game against the Wallabies, before being pushed to their physical limits on their northern hemisphere tour, which saw them win three of their five games by 10 points or less (including the French XV match).

Hansen said every international team was struggling, not just his players.

"I don't know how you'd structure it, but the one thing I'd really want is that everyone gets 16 weeks’ break between their last game and their next one.

Sam Whitelock.
Sam Whitelock. Photo credit: Getty

"That's what's missing. Currently, they don't get enough of a break and you've just got to look at Sam Whitelock.

"You can't keep going round and round without running out of petrol.

"The England boys, I think, have suffered a bit from the Lions tour and it's not only one season, it kicks on. It's a worldwide problem and probably the team that's managing it best at the moment is Ireland.

"They're pretty dictatorial about what they do. They go 'you can't play', because they own the players and the franchises completely - they've got a good model."

A top New Zealand rugby player could appear in as many as 33 games a season, if they feature in every Super Rugby game (including playoffs) and every All Blacks test.

The squad of 23 players will fly out to England on Thursday.