Hansen flowering as a coach
It was heartening to hear the other day that the New Zealand Rugby Union wants to extend All Black coach Steve Hansen’s contract beyond the 2015 World Cup.
There’s none of the usual Rugby Union caution about waiting for World Cup results.
Rugby Union boss Steve Tew knows he’s on to a good thing and is already chasing Hansen’s signature.
Hansen, Shag to his mates, has proved a revelation since succeeding Graham Henry as All Black coach in 2012.
The big guy – it’s difficult to believe he played 21 games for Canterbury at centre – has loosened up and his sense of humour has flowered.
Without being a headlinechaser, he has plenty to say on a variety of subjects.
After referee Jaco Peyper’s shocker in the All BlacksWallabies draw in August, he blamed his team for its failings, but spoke candidly about a discussion he’d had with Peyper, during which the referee conceded he’d made critical mistakes.
Hansen waded into the discussion about how Julian Savea and Jonah Lomu stack up as players, opting for Savea, who he feels has more all-round skills.
Last week, in the build-up to Richie McCaw’s 100th test as All Black captain, he spoke about the young McCaw annoying senior Canterbury players at training by constantly stealing the loose ball in rucks.
Todd Blackadder, Reuben Thorne, Scott Robertson and Angus Gardiner demanded Hansen tell McCaw to curb his enthusiasm or they might have to give the upstart a slap.
‘‘ They said, ‘ Look, if he comes into another ruck and pinches another ball we’re going to snot him’,’’ Hansen recalled.
‘‘I said, ‘If you snot him, I’ll be snotting the lot of you.
‘‘ Leave him alone. He’s only a baby. Look after him and get there quicker than he is’.’’
Always rugby-mad, Hansen was desperate to be an All Black, but wasn’t good enough, so went the coaching route, initially while continuing his job as a policeman and later fulltime.
He had success with Canterbury, winning two national championships, and as Robbie Deans’ assistant with the Crusaders. But when he became Wales coach in 2002, he learnt a lot more, at one point staggering through 11 successive test defeats.
Back in New Zealand, he became an All Black selector in 2004 and experienced the horror of the All Blacks’ quarterfinal defeat by France at the 2007 World Cup.
Those reverses have moulded him into a more rounded and understanding person and coach.
For example, he said of dealing with players: ‘‘ Some you’ve got to hug, some you’ve got to kick, some you’ve got to do a bit of both.
‘‘The most important thing is you’ve got to be aware they’re all subtly different.’’
Hansen has been an immensely successful All Black coach, with 38 wins, two draws and two losses in his 42 tests, a winning percentage of 90.5.
Only Fred Allen, unbeaten in 14 tests, ranks higher of long-term coaches, and Allen never coached against South Africa.
Other recent All Black coaches’ winning percentages were Alex Wyllie 86.2, Laurie Mains 67.6, John Hart 75.6, Wayne Smith 70.6, John Mitchell 82.2 and Henry 85.4, so Hansen is in a rarefied atmosphere.
No wonder the Rugby Union is keen to keep him.
Top team: Steve Hansen, right, and his long-serving captain, Richie McCaw, during the northern hemisphere tour.