Steve Hansen says he'll dig deep in search to replace Wayne Smith in All Blacks
Steve Hansen has vowed to be flexible in his thinking as he begins the important search for Wayne Smith's replacement in his All Blacks coaching group.
After Smith announced on Friday he would be standing down from his position as an assistant coach with the All Blacks at the end of this year's Rugby Championship, Hansen admitted it would be a difficult hole to fill.
But he said Smith's imprint on the All Blacks and the openness with which he operated as defence coach would make the process a much more manageable one. Plus, it was something he had been "planning for" for a while now.
"The hole will be big because this is a guy who is a massive contributor and is a great thinker of the game and, not only that, he's a great mate so there is a lot of trust there," said Hansen of the difficult job of replacing his long-time associate and confidant.
"There are some really good coaches out there who will come into [consideration]."
As Smith had confirmed in his exclusive interview with stuff.co.nz, the successful applicant will have the chance to transition into the role through working alongside the departing coach through the Rugby Championship.
"We're going to advertise the job, then interview, and make an appointment, and whoever we appoint will spend some time with us in the Rugby Championship just having a look over Smithy's shoulder, seeing how he's doing things, and seeing how we operate, so it's not a big, overwhelming thing coming in," Hansen said.
"It is an overwhelming place when you first come into it with no experience ... but I think we'll manage it OK and Smithy being Smithy has always been open and shared things, and he's only a phone call away.
"Whoever comes into the job I'm sure will already have a really good relationship with Wayne, so there will be a lot of opportunities for dialogue."
That would tend to indicate that Hansen will look within the New Zealand game to fill the void. However the coach maintained he had no pre-determined replacement in mind.
"You've got to be open with your thinking. Obviously you've got some people that are indicating they're possibly ready, and when we go through the interview process we'll get a better idea about that," added Hansen.
"But you've got to be flexible in your thinking because you don't know what's going to drop out of the sky. We haven't shoulder-tapped anybody. I don't think that's the right way to do it. We've been in the industry long enough to understand who's out there and then it's a matter of seeing if they are available or keen."
New Zealand Rugby chief executive Steve Tew, who flew in for Smith's announcement from his recent commitments in Japan, said the replacement process was an "open" opportunity which would include interested parties from offshore.
Hansen said the new role would be "more simplified" than Smith's wide brief in the All Blacks which also incorporates the transition, or counter-attack, game. "Initially what we want is somebody who can look after the defence," he said.
Added Smith: "Whoever comes in will have a fair bit of knowledge already around how we operate. I think it will be a pretty seamless transition and a good one because knowing these guys whoever gets the job they're going to have some pretty fresh ideas."
Both Hansen and Tew paid tribute to Smith's influence during his 20 years as a player and coach with the All Blacks.
"This man thinks about the game like no one else, and he's changed the game wherever he's gone," Tew said. "When Graham [Henry] turned up in 2004 and said my team will be Wayne Smith and Steve Hansen, that certainly captured my attention.
"You can't single out one attribute, he's got everything that a coach needs, but the most important thing is you can trust him 100 percent."
Hansen shared a story about Smith once sending him home early from a Canterbury B training session when Hansen was a veteran player and Smith coach.
Long story short, Smith needed someone to take his frustrations out on during a below-par session, Hansen took the shot for the team, and, eventually, Smith called Hansen to patch up their differences.
"I learnt a lot of lessons from Steve, even when he was a player, and that's probably one I learnt early on. 'Just calm down a wee bit, son'," said Smith, with a massive grin.