Steve Hansen undie-stands coaching subtleties

LIAM NAPIER
Last updated 05:00 07/12/2013
Steve Hansen
ANTHONY AU-YEUNG/ Getty
TOP COACH: Steve Hansen was named Coach of the Year at the 2013 New Zealand rugby awards.

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It wouldn't be a Steve Hansen interview without a quip. There it was: ''My philosophy is you don't wash your dirty undies in the front part of the property. You do it out the back.''

Add it to the list. We've heard countless classic one-liners from the proud Cantabrian at the head of world rugby's most dominant, all-conquering team this year.

This one, though typically laced with humour, summed up one of the most galvanised All Black teams in history.

Typically he deflects, but Hansen deserves credit for moulding such an environment.

All coaches strive to implement a successful culture. Yet there is often a great divide between ideals and reality.

Pictures of Hansen in victorious changing rooms - beer in hand, arm around one of his fatigued men - are revealing. As was the genuine admiration in the eyes of Kieran Read, Richie McCaw, Liam Messam and Ben Smith on Thursday night as Hansen collected back-to-back coach-of-the-year gongs at the New Zealand rugby awards.

Hansen cares deeply for his players. Even more for the collective. Not so for self-indulgence - an infectious issue the Wallabies have battled to eradicate.

Team first. Individual second. That's the only accepted attitude under the former policeman.

''The important thing is living it,'' he identifies.

''If you live it from the top down everyday you'll be ntsGokaynte OK. If you allow the guys at the top to live differently from those at the bottom you're going to have a problem.

''There's no out for the coach. I'd like to think we have a relationship where everyone keeps everyone accountable. If you have that then you have the right culture. There's an expectation that, if I'm not doing what I said I would, I'd expect people to tell me, whether they've been there for one week ntsGofnte or 124 tests.''

 The context of his opening jibe was to explain his unique public/private face.

Assuming a father-figure type role, Hansen tends to protect his players from ridicule, preferring to critique them behind closed doors.

''It's no different to being in a family,'' he said.

''You love them, but at times you don't like what they do, so you tell them. But you don't have to tell everyone.''

His presence is notable, too, alongside nervous rookies at their first top table press conference. In front of the cameras, dictaphones and probes, he offers reassuring words of praise and promise.

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Over time, and through experiences, Hansen has seemingly mastered the difficult balancing act. He is close enough to appreciate what makes his players tick. But, crucially, the level of mutual respect he's earned allows for direct, honest, critical assessments and for tough selection decisions to be made.

Trust is earned. The All Blacks are a collection of diverse personalities and ethnicities. Only through spending time with each player - observing their respective traits, body language, hearing and not just listening - has Hansen grasped their differences.

''Some you've got to hug, some you've got to kick, some you've got to do a bit of both,'' he said.

''The most important thing is, you've got to be aware they're all subtly different, and that's OK.

''You're striving to make sure the athlete has a sense of worth, a sense of trust.

 ''There's mutual belief. All of that builds a confidence within. That confidence allows expression from a talent point of view. If we can keep them confident and motivated that's a good recipe.''

Of course, the job is not complete. Not even close. Hansen's 92 per cent winning record - 26 from 28 tests - as All Blacks head coach is phenomenal.

But with holes to plug at centre and hooker; rivals relentlessly hunting their prized scalp and the World Cup only 18 months away, the blueprint never stops needing attention.

Even after the perfect season. Even in summer.

''There's still a massive amount of things we can do better in our game,'' Hansen said.

''Yes we will celebrate this year and, yes, we will have a few reflection moments, but there will be a full stop in 2014.''

- Stuff

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