The man, the myths, the coach Home front
Steve Hansen will soon announce his future plans with the All Blacks. Does he want to stay on as head coach after the 2019 World Cup, or will he retire? We outline both his achievements and how he rolls when spending time inside and outside the rugby tent
Since Hansen was appointed head coach in 2012 the All Blacks have won just under 90 per cent of their tests.
There can be no disputing the fact that he has the ability to squeeze the best of this team. Here’s the All Blacks’ record under Hansen: 96 tests played, 86 won, seven lost, and three drawn.
There’s a good reason why many New Zealanders remember the dud results more than the wins. They are rare blips in a record littered with Ws, and the odd D.
The losses during Hansen’s tenure have been against Ireland (twice), Australia (twice), South Africa (twice) and the British and Irish Lions. The draws were against the Aussies (twice) and the Lions.
Hansen was raised on his parents dairy farm in Mosgiel, near Dunedin. The family moved to Christchurch when he was 15, where he attended Christchurch Boys’ High School and was good enough to represent the first XV.
It was during an interschool game in Christchurch that he crossed paths with a teenager who was, like Hansen, to go on and build himself a big reputation as a rugby coach. Robbie Deans was a member of the Christ’s College first XV, a major rival of CBHS in the Garden City.
A centre, Hansen briefly played for Canterbury but was used more by the Canterbury B team. He also went to France, where he enjoyed a brief stint with a club, before returning to New Zealand.
Hansen hasn’t been afraid to say he didn’t achieve great things as an academic at school. He says he wished he had been more diligent in the classroom, but has also noted he gathered valuable life skills working in the freezing works and, later, as a policeman.
After eight years as a cop, Hansen found work with the Canterbury Rugby Football Union in the mid-1990s. It was then that his professional coaching career began to take off.
Not the boss of a Super team
Although he guided Canterbury to a couple of national provincial titles, Hansen has never been the head coach of a Super Rugby side. Hansen assisted Wayne Smith and, later, Deans at the Crusaders between 1999 and 2001.
When the relationship between head coach Deans and assistant Hansen became less than harmonious the latter left New Zealand after Graham Henry, then the coach of Wales, invited him to move north. When Henry suddenly departed, Hansen took over the top job in 2002 before returning to work as Henry’s assistant with the All Blacks in 2004.
When Deans left for Australia after the 2008 season Hansen tried to convince the NZ Rugby board he could coach the Crusaders, and also stay with the All Blacks. They declined his offer.
The Crusaders board appointed Todd Blackadder as Deans’ successor.
Hansen is known as ‘Shag’ to his mates. According to those who have played and worked alongside him in the past, he was tagged with this nickname because he had the habit of calling others ‘Shag’ and they decided to turn it back on him.
When Hansen played for the Marist club in Christchurch he was sometimes referred to as ‘Ox’. He married Tash Marshall in 2014. Two previous marriages did not work out. Before tying the knot with Marshall Hansen told Richie McCaw, the All Blacks captain at the time, that he didn’t want to get offside by sending invites to some players but not others. So ‘Ricko’, as McCaw was known to his mates, wasn’t asked to attend the nuptials.
A keen investor in racehorses, Hansen dreamed of being a jockey as a youngster. The more he kept growing, the less likely it was to be.
He owns thoroughbreds that race on both sides of the Tasman, and is a part-owner of Nature Strip. This speed machine is one of the quickest gallopers in the world over 1000m, and in the stable of high-profile trainer Darren Weir.
During the eight years working as Henry’s assistant, Hansen didn’t have much time for the media.
When Hansen prodded the fourth estate, he discovered some of them had a backbone and decided they could push back even harder.
So Hansen consulted former journo turned PR adviser Ian Fraser, and tried to win this battle another way. By the time he had been appointed head coach in 2012 Hansen had morphed into a much slicker operator in front of the microphones and cameras. He even seems to enjoy it.
If he is feeling frustrated, or feels the need to blow off steam, Hansen says he will ask one of his trusted colleagues from the All Blacks’ management team to spare a friendly ear.
This, in his own words, is how he goes about it: ‘‘You go into it saying ‘I need to vent for five minutes and don’t need you to find me a solution and I don’t want a solution – I just want a vent’.
‘‘I think that is healthy. I have had plenty of people come to me and say the same thing.’’
The unceremonious dumping of halfback Andy Ellis by Hansen when he replaced Henry as All Blacks head coach in 2012 wasn’t popular in his home province of Canterbury.
Ellis, who earned 26 test caps between 2006 and 2011, only played two more tests under Hansen before going overseas after the 2016 Super Rugby season.
All Blacks centre Conrad Smith was much more fortunate, being retained by Hansen during his first four years in charge.
However. Smith might have taken a while to get over Hansen’s decision to replace him with Sonny Bill Williams during the halftime break of the World Cup final against Australia in Twickenham in 2015. It was well documented that it was to be Smith’s final game for his country.
Yet it didn’t save Smith. He was unexpectedly yanked, and his days in black were over.
Quotes and quips
You can usually trust Hansen to entertain when he’s up for it during media sessions. They can be good value. Which makes you wonder why he couldn’t have been like this earlier in his coaching career, when he prowled around like a sleepless doorman with a hangover.
But, make no mistake, if Hansen doesn’t agree with something that has been written, or said, he can unleash colourful bursts that cause your eardrums to hum for several hours after the conflict.
If he’s going to town over the phone, here’s some friendly advice for the recipient: Put the receiver down on the bench top, pop the crumpets in the toaster and turn the dial to its highest point. When the morsels are burnt to a crisp, remove and add your favourite topping. By now the verbal storm might be nearing its end.
It’s all in the delivery
Hansen can deliver entertaining sound bites. He is also prepared to have a dig – whether it be at an opposition coach, a critic or even the World Rugby organisation – if he feels his team, players, or himself have been slighted or copped a rough deal. There is something refreshing about that. The game needs personalities.
Here’s a couple of quotes from the Hansen era. They are not necessarily the pick of the bunch, but they provide a small insight.
Before the All Blacks played France in the World Cup quarterfinal in Cardiff in 2015, Hansen reminded Les Bleus that he hadn’t forgotten the incident involving the sinking of the the Rainbow Warrior by French foreign intelligence services in 1985.
‘‘There has been a great relationship between the two countries for a long, long time and, apart from the Rainbow Warrior, we’ve probably been on the same page most of the time.’’
After that match, which the All Blacks won 62-13 in Cardiff, Hansen was asked at a media conference if he had anything else up his sleeve: ‘‘Just my arm,’’ he replied.
It was one of those you-have-tobe-there moments. Even Hansen seemed surprised by the reaction. One TV type almost toppled off his stool with laughter. It actually wasn’t that funny. But you get the picture.
If he decides to end his coaching tenure after the World Cup, don’t expect Hansen to search for work with another international team. During the All Blacks’ tour of the northern hemisphere, he went on the record to say it wasn’t in his short-term plans.
‘‘I would be better off staying where I am; it doesn’t matter what team you coach the time commitments and pressures are pretty similar. I couldn’t see any point in doing that.’’
With wife Tash Marshall.
With former All Blacks head coach Graham Henry.
With current All Blacks assistant coach Ian Foster.