Steve Hansen, left, got just about everything right. The result was an All Blacks triumph in the Rugby World Cup final.
If there was one thing that stood out about the All Blacks’ World Cup campaign it was that their coach seemed in complete control from start to finish.
Early in the tour Hansen candidly sat in the Lensbury Hotel in Teddington in jandals and shorts sipping a cup of tea a few days before the opening match of the tournament.
MIKE HEWITT/GETTY IMAGES
Steve Hansen congratulates Keven Mealamu after the final whistle.
Happy to chat off the record, he explained there was little point in showing the world his game plan during the pool stages.
The All Blacks would play basic rugby, adding bits here and there before unleashing the full noise on their unsuspecting quarterfinal opponents, be it France or Ireland.
Hansen likes westerns and would probably agree the four pool matches were a mix of the good, the bad and the ugly. The public were unforgiving, but the coach was unwavering. Calm down was his constant message. Enjoy the experience. Don’t take things too seriously, or they will eat you up.
It’s not common practice for the All Blacks coach to have a pint at the local with the media, but there was Hansen in a Darlington pub mixing easily with the traveling media over a plate of hot chips and tomato sauce.
The common touch. Hansen puts people at ease. He loves a bit of banter, but has the sense of time and place.
“I can switch it on and off pretty easily,” he said when asked this week about dealing with the pressure of being in a World Cup final.
When a journalist was forced home halfway through the tour for a family bereavement, Hansen’s first port of call upon their return was to call them over and express his condolences.
Hooker Dane Coles was asked early in the tournament for his thoughts on his coach.
After suggesting his honesty could be brutal, Coles summed up saying Hansen genuinely cared for his players.
Hansen just gets it. He got that Sonny Bill Williams’ talent needed to play a bigger role than short cameos off the bench.
He got that a fit Dan Carter’s burning desire would override fitness and form once he reached the Hillary Step.
Hansen shows faith, but never blindly. He dropped Israel Dagg. He left out form horses in Charles Piutau and Lima Sopoaga. He took punts on Waisake Naholo and Nehe Milner-Skudder.
He wasn’t afraid to select only three locks, didn’t blink in calling up Joe Moody to start late in the piece. He shifted Tawera-Kerr Barlow into the back up No 9 role despite a long term injury, and replaced Conrad Smith halfway through the final.
And he did it all with a smile.
He was right about France not knowing what hit them in the quarterfinal. He predicted the semifinal would come down to one or two moments, and he told everyone the final would be an open affair.
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