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Steve Hansen 101 “Never Assume Anything in Test Rugby My Son”

New Zealand v Australia - The Rugby Championship

From the Last Word on Rugby department.

Over the years of his International coaching career, Steve Hansen looks like a man who is becoming more comfortable in his role. The success of the team during his term (2004-11 Assistant/2012-present as Head Coach) appears to have given Hansen confidence to show his personality.

If ever there was a class on how to develop into a leading coach, then here is Steve Hansen 101. Now more balanced, less cautious with the media and rugby public. Stress might still play a part, but Hansen has learned to embrace it and to grow to adapt to the rigours of a professional rugby coach.

And that was highlighted this week with an ‘off the cuff’ comment to an reporter in New Plymouth.

While his attitude is very concentrated on rugby, now commentators and rugby watchers are also enjoying his own personality more. One that is coming out naturally, from behind the man who was once more sedated. Two decades ago, a different Hansen would face the Welsh rugby media scrum, more glum than giving.

Much has changed in the past years, to the benefit of Hansen the person; and of Hansen the coach.

Steve Hansen 101 “Never Assume Anything in Test Rugby My Son”

For many years, an All Blacks coach was held in awe. Held in a place away from the rugby public, who might comment on the game once in a while but never revealed anything more than he was willing. Hansen’s above reaction shows a confident man, more at ease with his role.

Access was very much restricted in years past, whereas today the Media Manager for the All Blacks is more inviting of journalists and reporters. All Blacks public days are more frequent; as seen this week in New Plymouth. Players too, all are now coached on the field and ‘off it too’. Media duties for coach and players has been of two-way benefit.

Fans now see more; so much more in fact, than ever before. That can be via social media––and through all platforms. Regular player press conferences and the ubiquitous post-game press conference are all chances to engage. Although, often formal, it is very different from years past and is across all rugby nations.

These used to be very sober occasions, and while on occasion a coach may have to ‘face the music’ after a loss, for Steve Hansen that experience has been less and less often. His International record is near to 90% – unheard of success, which has also helped to soften the edges of a man who was once called ‘gruff’ by his critics.

But in recent years, he has shown to have quick reactions–sometimes his quips bring the house down. At the 2015 World Cup tournament, he was asked ‘what do the All Black coaches have up their sleeves’ before a game. He took a deep breath, and with his classic dry delivery, Hansen replied “just my arm.”

Steve Hansen Has Developed More Nuance as All Blacks Coach

Early in his coaching career, Hansen gave less of himself. When head coach for Canterbury in the NPC, his responses to questions were minimalist. That didn’t change to a high degree, when he took over from Graham Henry as head coach for Wales in 2002.

The Wales experience was tough though, with the Welsh rugby public being just as demanding as New Zealand rugby fans. His personality then was not as forthcoming as it is today. The two examples seem light years apart, with the 2017 model of Steve Hansen offering more nuance.

New Zealand v Wales
(L to R) Grant Fox, Steve Hansen and Ian Foster prior to the start of the Test match between the New Zealand All Blacks and Wales. (Photo by Martin Hunter/Getty Images)

Today, that external focus from fans and followers seems more easily managed by the All Blacks head coach. His responses to questions is focused on the goals of the team, the philosophy that he, Ian Foster and Grant Fox (see above) have developed.

Gilbert Enoka has been a huge help to the All Blacks. A slow development, which reached it’s height when dealing with the disappointment of 2007. That involved both players, and coaches where Hansen will have found benefit.

If people have had an assumption of Steve Hansen, then his answer would surely be “Never assume anything in Test rugby my son.”

Professionally and Personally, Hansen Has Evolved

The support mechanisms for Steve Hansen include All Blacks management, but also his family and friends. A crucial part of all sports peoples lives–to create balance. And Hansen appears to have that balance pretty much perfectly aligned.

While 110% committed to the sport, his private life has always remained that. And privacy is crucial, even though he has stepped outside himself recently, by appearing in a series of new television commercials for Arnott’s.

The initial reaction was a mix of mis-understanding and intrigue. Not often do rugby fans see their head coach being so existential. He was trying things, to develop himself outside of the game. In his own words;

“I thought it would be fun and totally different, outside my comfort zone.”

“It was an opportunity to be coached by someone else and learn coaching techniques to take into my own arena,” Hansen told Fairfax. The players also found it to be an interesting transition, but as in any team, they supported him.

“We had a few laughs this morning,” said Beauden Barrett, when asked back in August, about the advert. “It’s sort of floating around the team at the moment…everyone seems to enjoy it.”

You can be sure that the odd biscuit has been left on his seat in the team bus, as a reference to his line “never ever lose your biscuit.”

Players See Steve Hansen Now As More Than Just a Coach

He has also added nuance to his dealings with players and the media. More relaxed, more secure in the direction and goal setting of the side. Since winning the 2015 Rugby World Cup, Steve Hansen has looked to develop new players. Barrett has been a success at first-five, as has skipper Kieran Read (see main photo).

And that has brought new challengers that inspired Hansen to re-sign until the 2019 World Cup in Japan. So for the players, they have a consistent leader who is much more approachable and genuine. His demeanor from 2004 to 2017 is chalk and cheese. And for a positive example of the ‘how to All Black coaching’ the Steve Hansen 101 is ‘growth’.

Head Coach, Steve Hansen of New Zealand speaks during an all blacks media conference at the Garden Court uMhlanga hotel on October 6, 2016 in Durban, South Africa. (Photo by Steve Haag/Getty Images)

“I get most satisfaction out of seeing people do things they couldn’t before. Some of our athletes have done things they couldn’t previously. That’s satisfying.”

When asked in 2013 by the Sunday News, it seems you have the balance right between understanding them and making the hard calls. How do you go about this?

“It’s being aware they are different and understanding that’s okay. It’s about giving them the time by watching them, hearing what they are saying rather than just listening, asking yourself why they are exhibiting this behaviour. You’re striving to make sure the athlete has a sense of worth, a sense of trust. All of that builds a confidence within.

“If we can keep them confident and motivated that’s a good recipe,” is how Hansen best describes coaching.

Many will say that the 2017 version of Steve Hansen is much improved. For the coach, and for the man, he is still improving. He will never assume anything in test rugby, or in coaching.

And if the All Blacks continue to perform, then the smile will stay on Hansen’s face leading up to 2019 Rugby World Cup in Japan.


“Main photo credit”
Embed from Getty Images


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