Departing All Blacks coach Hansen fires off parting shot
TOKYO (AP) — It takes a certain kind of resilience to be part of the All Blacks’ coaching crew for four Rugby World Cups.
After the last of his 93 wins from 107 tests as coach of New Zealand, Steve Hansen clearly isn’t ready to stop defending his turf.
Six days after the All Blacks’ bid for a third straight World Cup title ended in a semifinal loss to England, Hansen managed to get his squad up again to win the third-place playoff 40-17 against Wales on Friday.
He was emotional as he clapped his hands above his head during a post-match interview, applauding his All Blacks and acknowledging a rousing crowd of close to 49,000.
It was a night before his wishful exit as coach, and the color of the medal was not the same as the All Blacks delivered in 2011 and ’15, but it was a winning ending all the same.
Not long after, Hansen was asked about the potential future power shift in the game and how it may affect the All Blacks, with the money on offer for players in Europe leading to predictions of an exodus from the south.
Ever combative, Hansen turned defense into attack.
“Firstly, the northern hemisphere has always had the say about what happens. Six Nations has been doing that for years,” he said. “That’s one of the issues with our game. We need to become a global game and make decisions that are right for the game, rather than what’s right for one region.
“That’s the challenge for our game, to put our own personal desires to the side and actually do what’s right with the game.”
He was talking about the failure to agree on global windows for international rugby, but having said that, Hansen acknowledged the All Blacks responded from adversity to win unprecedented consecutive World Cups, and he was confident they can do it again from the ashes of this campaign.
He was an assistant coach to Graham Henry in 2007 when the All Blacks had a shocking quarterfinal loss to France in Cardiff. Both coaches kept their jobs, against all expectations. Four years later, they delivered New Zealand’s second World Cup title, 24 years after the first.
Hansen took over as head coach and led the successful title defense in 2015 in England. The All Blacks were unbeaten in 18 World Cup matches, and there were two-time world champions in the squad who had never lost a game at the global tournament until that semifinal loss to England.
Preparing to lift for the Wales game was a real test of character, Hansen said.
“It’s easy to have character when you’re winning all the time because it’s not tested; our character’s been tested this week,” he said. “The most important thing we can do now is show that if your character’s tested, you can stand up to it. That’s the greatest success we can take out of this tournament. It’s the greatest success we can show young people in New Zealand who want to be aspiring All Blacks or aspiring anything. You’ve got to have character.”
The New Zealanders scored six tries to two against Wales, and were dominant from the start, extending an unbeaten streak in head-to-heads that dates to 1963.
England and South Africa meet in Saturday’s final, and Hansen said those teams deserved to be called the global leaders. The All Blacks, dominant for a decade, were among the chasers.
“I know with my time finishing, the All Blacks will continue to strive to be better,” Hansen said. “The young men that are going to come back have a personal pain. It’s now personal. That’ll make them a little bit more dangerous.”
Players and coaches respected Hansen’s understanding of what it was to represent the All Blacks, a revered position in a country where rugby is a passion.
“He’s been a massive driver behind the standards we’ve been chasing,” assistant coach Ian Foster said. “He’s added to a legacy that means a lot to him, and he’s added his own little special chapter.”
For Hansen, heading towards a club job in Japan, that means he won’t turn pundit, and he warned anyone thinking of calling him looking for criticism of the future All Blacks will be disappointed.
“It’ll be pretty good, I reckon. Beer in one hand, and access to another one in the other hand. No pressure,” he said of watching upcoming test matches. “You’ll always be connected to the team. It’s like a family and you’ll always want it to do well.”