Hansen's challenge won't be mental during the All Blacks season
James Mortimer 15 Apr 2014 Getty Images
Predicting Test pedigree based purely on the results of the Southern Hemisphere’s premier provincial competition is fraught with danger.
All Blacks coach Steve Hansen, will not be the first New Zealand coach in the professional era who might question Super Rugby pedigree, but he will back the most elite rugby environment in the country to ensure that the players take the necessary step up.
For the former police officer, taking charge of a World Championship winning team meant that his initial challenge wasn’t going to be within the realms of a traditional coach.
Taking charge of a group led by All Blacks captain Richie McCaw and a host of some of the most experienced players to ever wear the Black jersey on the surface of it all appeared to be the most plum job in rugby.
Certainly it cannot be denied that few Test mentors would enter the job with their team in that sort of rude health, but as Hansen himself will quickly remind us, it was never going to be easy taking over an outfit that had just reached the pinnacle.
To be fair, the Steve Hansen All Blacks have maintained if not exceeded the standards set by their predecessors.
A considerable amount of the input, beyond new ideas with a fresh coaching team in the form of Ian Foster and Brian McLean, has been the ability of the current head coach to talk straight.
Henry was a different breed, he relished dry humour and deadpan wit on occasion, but while Hansen isn’t without wit, ironically a man who used to bristle if the All Blacks were criticised has become one of the most affable front men the team has ever seen.
While Sir Graham was the headmaster, Hansen has been a patriarch, well aware of the responsibilities of family.
Often he speaks of the “massive sacrifices” that his immediate support network makes over 200 days a year, and it is clear that despite the hard edge of the coach, he considers the All Blacks to be the second tier of his family members.
Such demands away from home are often the core reasons why coaches and players step down from the intense arena of international rugby.
Hansen, who despised losing to the point of tears as a young man playing rugby, has never shied away from the fact that a team generally recognised as among the finest sporting dynasties in the world has immense public expectations.
This external pressure only ensures that the internal demands rise with every game.
And for the current All Blacks coach, now with a 26-1-1 ledger, the basic requirement to get better with each game has not changed, even if his focus might alter in the next 36 months.
The mental fortitude exists within the squad, the likes of McCaw, Kieran Read, Dan Carter and others will see to that.
For Hansen, the next challenge will be ensuring that his World Champions continue to rise and evolve tactics to meet the ever increasing threat that will come from the likes of the English, Springboks and Wallabies over the next few months.
So far the formula has looked on song, but the challenge from here will be far beyond maintaining the headspace that is required of every All Black.
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