No love lost as ex Canterbury mates square off
Their relationship unwound from being mates to arch-rivals long ago and now it gets even more personal.
For the first time since their international coaching careers intersected at the 2003 World Cup, Steve Hansen and Robbie Deans will attempt to out-manoeuvre each other as head coaches when the All Blacks and Wallabies collide in Sydney tonight.
Hansen and Deans are no longer friends; the bond they formed when they guided Canterbury and the Crusaders between 1997 and 2001 collapsed long ago.
Getting anyone to elaborate publicly why the pair have fallen out is difficult, but it is clear both were ambitious and wanted to get their own way when working together in Christchurch.
"I just think they are totally different people," said one source who worked at the union when Deans and Hansen operated alongside each other.
"Robbie is a very strong-willed person ... in fact they both could be. There was no sense of public animosity but at times you would hear the odd thing said out of the side of the mouth like ‘what is going on here' or ‘what's he doing now?' "
Another insider was more succinct: "They rarely talk to each other now."
One of their earliest serious encounters was when Deans, a talented first five-eighth for Christ's College, and Hansen, a robust centre for Christchurch Boys' High School, met in their annual inter-school 1st XV clash in 1977.
College, who also had the late Jock Hobbs playing on the flank, won 13-0 to break a losing sequence stretching back more than a decade and ignite wild celebrations among Deans' school mates. It was not the last he would see of Hansen.
Deans rose to prominence as a fullback, playing five tests for the All Blacks and becoming a record points-scorer for Canterbury between 1979 and 1990, while Hansen made sporadic appearances for the province as a bustling midfielder.
Both gravitated towards coaching, eventually pairing-up to guide Canterbury and the Crusaders.
Success immediately followed when Canterbury won the national crown in 1997, their combination also resulting in the Crusaders winning the Super 12 title in 2000. Several months later they guided a New Zealand A team to Europe.
Soon after it became apparent their relationship had disintegrated and in late-2001 Hansen left for Wales.
Before Hansen exited one source said the former policeman appeared to be irked by Deans hogging the limelight, and that he wanted to be seen as the man that controlled the show.
Deans and Hansen's first coaching confrontation was when the All Blacks met Wales in their World Cup pool match in Australia in 2003.
Deans was operating under the title of "coaching co-ordinator" alongside John Mitchell, while Hansen was the boss of Wales.
The All Blacks won that night but within months the unpredictable and political world of rugby would reverse their fortunes; Mitchell and Deans were sacked after the World Cup breakdown, Hansen joined new All Blacks coach Graham Henry's coaching staff and Deans returned to work solely with the Crusaders.
This year, with Henry abdicating his throne, the road has been cleared for Hansen and Deans to directly apply more flames to their unsettled relationship.
Their rivalry was first re-ignited when Deans joined the Wallabies in 2008 but it has been Hansen who has reaped the major dividends.
In five years the All Blacks have furnished a commanding 12-3 record, the highlight being last year's World Cup semi-final victory at Eden Park.
A groundswell of support for Deans - who had guided the Crusaders to four Super titles - when he applied for the All Blacks head coaching job in late-2007 did not please Hansen's allies and one complained about the coverage Deans continued to receive after he had crossed the Tasman.
"Why would you give him that? He's an Australian now - not a New Zealander. He's not one of us."
Their social habits offer a small insight to their personalities. Hansen likes a drink, enjoys a day at the races and can be gregarious.
Deans, a keen squash player, also enjoys a beer but can be more reserved until he warms to his audience.
A former All Blacks and Crusaders player said Hansen was an easier person to socialise with.
"But Deans is probably good at being a head coach," he admitted at the time.
"He can be aloof but he can make the hard calls."
Deans has proved he can be ruthless.
He and Mitchell chopped first-five Andrew Mehrtens from their 2003 World Cup squad and the following season journeyman Cameron McIntyre was preferred at No 10 for the Crusaders.
Mehrtens, a good friend of Hansen's, returned briefly to the All Blacks in 2004 before being dumped before the end-of-season tour - an act that led to Mehrtens having a heated argument with assistant coach Wayne Smith.
It was also apparent that Steve Tew, when he was the Crusaders and Canterbury chief executive and later the NZRU head honcho, struggled to gain traction with Deans.
Behind closed doors Deans was never shy of challenging the NZRU officials and was privately annoyed when the national body never publicly acknowledged the Crusaders' Super title wins.
To this day Deans and Tew have little time for each other, a lasting legacy of their tumultuous relationship in Christchurch.
Henry stated he didn't know Deans well personally and resisted baiting him publicly. Hansen has been more forthcoming.
In 2008 he accused an Australian TV network of filming the New Zealanders training in Brisbane and giving it to the Wallabies.
"We know they did because they [the Wallabies] told us. "They told one of our guys [after the game] and it's pretty disappointing.”
The Wallabies hotly denied Hansen's allegation.
There was more unease in 2010, with the All Blacks miffed the Wallabies didn't accept an invite to enter their changing shed in Christchurch.
Their annoyance was compounded by the way the Aussies celebrated their win in Hong Kong later that year.
A few weeks later Deans questioned the New Zealanders' set-piece tactics.
"They (the All Blacks) don't scrummage. They just manipulate, they play the referee constantly. It's all about trickery."
Hansen didn't roll over.
“It's laughable ... Rob's obviously under a bit of pressure. He seems to always fall back and talk about New Zealand when he's actually involved with Australia," he goaded.
“It's a man trying to divert attention from his own team and himself."
This week he re-filled the chamber and had another blast after the Aussies stated they were not intimidated by the All Blacks scrum.
"We'll see who is doing the talking when the time comes," Hansen said.
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