(Reuters) - New Zealand coach Steve Hansen has leapt to the defence of his captain Kieran Read in the wake of criticism of recent performances by the 117-cap veteran.
Hansen, at a news conference ahead of Saturday's fixture against Italy, 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.
"Is it frustrating when you read some of the stuff from people who should know better? Yep it is. But they've also got a job to do. Usually it's to sell a newspaper or to get somebody to click on their story. Once you understand that's part of it as well, it doesn't bother you so much."
"The good thing people could do is not click on it - then they wouldn't have a job and it'd be great," Hansen added.
(Reporting by Mark Gleeson; Editing by Christian Radnedge)