No-fuss Hansen departs as All Blacks greatest coach
As opponents and colleagues pay tribute in his final week as New Zealand coach, Steve Hansen is resolutely determined not to dwell or pontificate on his reign until he has masterminded what would be his 93rd and final All Blacks triumph in the bronze final on Friday.
Of course, the 60-year-old cannot bow out by becoming the first head coach to successfully defend a World Cup title following the semi-final defeat by England, but it has made no difference to his resolve that he leaves on a winning note against Wales at Tokyo Stadium.
If he does, then the debates can really begin about whether the former policeman from Mosgiel, in the south of New Zealand's south island, has been the greatest All Blacks coach of all. If it were down to statistics alone, there would be little argument.
"The nice thing was some of their guys came into our shed, and our coaching group went down to their shed to share a beer"@AllBlacks head coach Steve Hansen on the respect between New Zealand and England. #RWC2019
If New Zealand win again in his 107th match in charge stretching back seven triumphant years, it will leave Hansen’s final record as won 93, drawn four and lost just 10. That would be an 88.79 per cent win percentage, which is the best in history of any coach who has overseen 15 tests or more.
Over three years between 1966 and 1968, Fred Allen won all 14 tests as All Blacks coach, including the 4-0 whitewash of the British and Irish Lions in 1966, but Hansen's success has been much more enduring in the competitive hothouse of the professional game.
He has a superior record to his fellow World Cup-winning All Blacks coaches, Brian Lochore (77.8 per cent) and even the masterful Graham Henry (85.43 per cent), to whom Hansen acted as an influential assistant in the 2011 triumph.
Indeed, if you take into account Hansen’s entire 15-year oeuvre for the All Blacks since joining Henry's coaching staff in 2004, he has been involved in 209 tests, winning 180 and losing 25, with four draws, while winning two World Cups, 11 Tri-Nations/Rugby Championships and 16 Bledisloe Cups.
Allen, Lochore and Henry became knights of the realm, and there is no reason why Hansen will not have the same honour bestowed for his remarkable service to New Zealand rugby, which saw him receive the World Rugby coach of the year award a record four times.
Eddie Jones, the England coach, may have got the better of his old rival in Yokohama on Saturday but even he was quick to salute Hansen as the best All Blacks coach in history.
"Steve is just a great rugby man," said the irrepressible Australian, while appearing to confirm the open secret that Hansen will next be taking up a coaching appointment with Toyota Verblitz in Japan.
As for Hansen's staff, they know he does not want anyone talking about it being his last game but they are determined to make it the ideal send-off anyway.
Sam Cane, one of many given his first All Blacks start under Hansen, described him as "more than a coach". He's someone with an intuitive feel for selection, for the right time to blood talent and for giving his coaching team a certain freedom.
The results have been spectacular. Under Hansen, it has not just been the ledger of victories that has been staggering but the thrillingly intricate manner in which so many have been carved out.
Of England, Hansen said: "They don’t play a sophisticated game. Win the ball, give it to a big bloke and run hard. Win the collision and get over the gainline. That's rugby in its simplistic form - but it's beautiful as well."
Yet Hansen has always seen beauty in more complex patterns of attack, as a kind of guardian of a more artistic style of the game. Under his head coach watch, his All Blacks have weaved so much complex magic, scoring 199 tries more than any other test team over the past eight years, that it is sometimes felt like watching a form of "total rugby".
He may have missed out on his last great goal for his beloved All Blacks, but some of the masterpieces his team painted here, like TJ Perenara's flying score from Brad Weber's behind-the-back pass against Namibia and George Bridge's thrilling opening salvo against South Africa, have been this great coach's precious parting gifts to international rugby.
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