Departing coach Steve Hansen and captain Kieran Read go down as All Blacks greats

All Blacks captain Kieran Read and coach Steve Hansen after the All Blacks' semifinal defeat to England last month.
STU FORSTER/GETTY IMAGES
All Blacks captain Kieran Read and coach Steve Hansen after the All Blacks' semifinal defeat to England last month.

Acknowledging the need to "bottle the pain" wasn't how Steve Hansen wanted to prepare for his final days in charge of the All Blacks.

Yet there wasn't much else the head coach could say after the All Blacks were comprehensively outplayed by England, who beat them 19-7 in the World Cup semifinal in Yokohama.

Hansen knew he and his All Blacks had blown it. 

So, too, captain Kieran Read. He, like his coach, won't be around for the 2020 season. 

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Hansen, having worked for eight years as head coach and eight as an assistant under Sir Graham Henry, is leaving NZ Rugby.

Read, widely considered the All Blacks' greatest No 8, is also finishing up a test career that began in late 2008.

All Blacks coach Steve Hansen and captain Kieran Read embrace after the bronze medal match last weekend.
HANNAH PETERS/GETTY IMAGEs
All Blacks coach Steve Hansen and captain Kieran Read embrace after the bronze medal match last weekend.

Their final days in New Zealand's flagship rugby team should have revolved around them talking about the final and defending the Webb Ellis Cup. That's if everything had gone to plan at Yokohama Stadium.

Instead their hopes of a title three-peat were wrenched away by an England side inspired by coach Eddie Jones, leaving the All Blacks to choke back tears and admit they didn't front when it mattered most.

In the space of 80 minutes in Japan, four years' hard work had been rendered worthless.

When Richie McCaw stepped down as All Blacks captain after lifting the Webb Ellis Cup for a second consecutive time in London in late 2015, Hansen and his management team started planning for the next tournament in Japan.

Promoting No 8 Read as openside flanker McCaw's successor was done swiftly, and with little fuss. There were few, if any, dissenters.

All Blacks assistant coach Steve Hansen, Kieran Read, Piri Weepu and Richie McCaw during a training session during the 2011 World Cup.
STUFF
All Blacks assistant coach Steve Hansen, Kieran Read, Piri Weepu and Richie McCaw during a training session during the 2011 World Cup.

There was nothing to suggest Read, 29 at the time, wasn't the right man; he had previously captained the All Blacks on nine occasions, and for several seasons had also been the leader of the Crusaders.

Hansen said Read was marked for leadership duties early in his career.

"He's a special player. I have been lucky enough to work with him for a long, long time," Hansen said. "We identified early that he would be the next leader after Richie.

"He would have led a lot more games but for a guy that played 148 test matches. Flankers aren't meant to do that. He, himself, played a lot of rugby in a position that is tough."

If Hansen was the general of the All Blacks' machine, Read filled the role of the loyal officer out in the field. It was his job to accept orders, to shoulder the responsibility of making sure the team gave maximum output in games and during trainings.

Sitting at the bottom of the world, with a small population of almost five million, means NZ Rugby, who in April announced a $1.9 million loss for the 2018 financial year, must fight for every dollar it receives.

It's the All Blacks who help rake in the majority of their income. The Black Ferns, the NZ sevens men's and women's teams and the NZ under-20 sides have had their share of successes over the years, but if you're going cap in hand for dollars in a foreign market there's only one team that matters.  

Unlike the Six Nations unions, who reap massive dividends thanks to the popularity of that grand old competition and the broadcasters supplying their product to a much bigger market in Europe, NZ Rugby does it tough.

All Blacks coach Steve Hansen got better behind the camera with time.
JOSEPH JOHNSON/STUFF
All Blacks coach Steve Hansen got better behind the camera with time.

So the pressure on the All Blacks to not only remain relevant, but to dominate, never wavers.

Hansen, who replaced Henry as head coach after the 2011 World Cup, and Read hardly needed to be reminded of their responsibilities.

Which is why the failure to keep the Webb Ellis Cup will be so painful.

NZ Rugby still has a powerful brand in the All Blacks, but when they sit down to negotiate deals with corporate partners they won't be able to use the World Cup winners tag as a bargaining chip.

If Hansen and Read are honest, they will admit the scoreline against England flattered the All Blacks.

Steve Hansen reacts after the All Blacks' 19-7 loss to England in the Rugby World Cup semifinal.
PHOTOSPORT
Steve Hansen reacts after the All Blacks' 19-7 loss to England in the Rugby World Cup semifinal.

Yet there were few indicators this team was going to crash out of title contention. Their willingness to attack was being celebrated by all and sundry, and the 46-14 win over Ireland in the quarterfinal suggested they should have the edge over England.

Yet they were taught a lesson by the men in white. The following day, Hansen, Read, Sam Whitelock and Beauden Barrett spoke in an emotionally charged press conference on the 25th floor at the plush Royal Park Hotel in Shiodome, Tokyo.

The All Blacks still had to play the bronze final against Wales in Tokyo, Read's 127th test, but no-one goes to a World Cup to collect the booby prize.

You could have heard a door slam on the ground floor as Hansen and Read battled to keep their emotions in check.

Read fought back the tears as he explained what it was like to return to his hotel room after the defeat, and discover the cards his three children had left for him on his 34th birthday.

Hansen had to stop and compose himself by taking a drink from a glass of water as he recollected calling his wife Tash from the field following the loss.

He admitted the team's past successes had also been its Achilles heel; the victories at the previous two World Cups, and the majority of tests in between, had meant some players hadn't been exposed to the harsh lessons that accompany a defeat.

"For 12 years we have been reasonably successful, game after game. We have lost 10 games out of 104 or 105, which is pretty amazing itself. But what it does do is take away the guys who have had the pain," Hansen said.

Richie McCaw captained the Steve Hansen coached All Blacks to the 2015 World title.
PHOTOSPORT
Richie McCaw captained the Steve Hansen coached All Blacks to the 2015 World title.

"It's important that we bottle that pain. These young guys will be around for a long, long time because they're super talented young men, so the experience that they have is in their back pocket."

While Hansen has yet to announce his immediate plans, it's understood his partnership with Read will continue after the World Cup; he will join the Toyota club - where his skipper is contracted to play - in Japan as a coaching director.

Hansen has constantly been at Read's side throughout his All Blacks' career.

The working relationship began in late 2008, when the latter made his debut as a blindside flanker against Scotland in Edinburgh on the northern tour.

All Blacks head coach Steve Hansen and No 8 Kieran Read in Italy in 2012.
HANNAH JOHNSTON/GETTY IMAGES
All Blacks head coach Steve Hansen and No 8 Kieran Read in Italy in 2012.

Not that Henry and Hansen didn't make Read sweat. Standout performances for the Crusaders, when they won the Super Rugby title, had the rugby public demanding he be selected for upcoming tests against Australia and South Africa.

Instead Read was made to wait until later in the year, and he made the transition to No 8 in 2009.

Read started the World Cup finals in Auckland in 2011 and in London four years later, collecting a winner's medals from each event.

His record since taking over as captain in 2016 stands at 34 wins, six losses and two draws. He was named World Rugby's player of the year in 2013. 

Unlike McCaw, who had youth on his side and retained the captaincy after France stunned the All Blacks in the 2007 World Cup quarterfinal, Read won't get the chance to right the wrongs of Yokohama.

His other big mission, to beat the British and Irish Lions in 2017, ended in a drawn series.

Surrendering his body to relentless punishment has been part of the job.

Concussions, and the need to have surgery on his wrist and lower spine have been required.

All Blacks No 8 Kieran Read celebrates with the Webb Ellis Cup following the 2015 Rugby World Cup  triumph in London.
GETTY IMAGES
All Blacks No 8 Kieran Read celebrates with the Webb Ellis Cup following the 2015 Rugby World Cup triumph in London.

The operation on his spine in late 2017 could have ended his career, and before the bronze final Hansen admired Read for fighting back to lead the All Blacks.

"People won't understand just how hard it was, and to come back into the form that he has come back into speaks volumes for him," Hansen said.

"He was really, really driven to do well at this World Cup and have the team do well. I think you can see the hurt when he has spoken since."

Former All Blacks guru Wayne Smith, whose 20-year relationship - five as a player, and 15 over three stints in a coaching capacity - with the national side ended in 2017, was equally full of praise for Read.

"He's definitely in the conversation," he said when asked if Read was New Zealand's finest No 8. 

Departing All Blacks coach Steve Hansen, right, and former defence coach Wayne Smith in Auckland in 2017.
PHIL WALTER/GETTY IMAGES
Departing All Blacks coach Steve Hansen, right, and former defence coach Wayne Smith in Auckland in 2017.

Smith calls Read a "man of the people", saying one of his major strengths was being able to get along with everyone, regardless of race and age - something the 62-year-old traces back to Read attending Rosehill College in Papakura. 

An openness to try new things was another quality Smith listed. 

"An example of that was in 2016-17. I was pretty keen for us to try a few different things at the captain's run. Maybe trying to fix something up that wasn't quite right during the week. 

"Normally the captain's run is a sanctum that you don't touch. Players do a jog through and they've got to feel good about going into the game, but I just wanted a couple of things fixed up and he was really willing to do that."

Hansen's record as head coach before the World Cup stood at 87 wins, four draws and nine losses. He was named World Rugby's coach of the year 2013 and 2016.

In 2013, the All Blacks achieved a perfect record, winning all 14 tests, and the later set a world record of 18 consecutive test victories, which was equalled by England five months later in 2016.

"He's going to go down as one of the great All Blacks coaches," Smith said.

He is well qualified to comment on Hansen, who he's known since the pair played a handful of games together for Canterbury in the early 1980s.

It was Smith who asked Hansen to replace Peter Sloane and assist with coaching the Crusaders in 1999, when the red and blacks won a second straight title. 

All Blacks coaches Steve Hansen (L-R), Wayne Smith and Sir Graham Henry after winning the 2011 Rugby World Cup at Eden Park.
STUFF
All Blacks coaches Steve Hansen (L-R), Wayne Smith and Sir Graham Henry after winning the 2011 Rugby World Cup at Eden Park.

Hansen, a former police officer and freezing worker, had been coaching Canterbury since 1996. 

"The reason why I wanted him to take Peter Sloane's place at the Crusaders, he wasn't a forwards coach at that point, he hadn't done a lot of coaching, but something inside me said he's a winner and he'll be able to do this job for me."

The pair went on to work together under Henry as All Blacks coach between 2004-2011, before Smith returned as Hansen's defence coach between 2015-17. 

Now working as the director of rugby for the Kobelco Steelers in Japan, Smith hailed Hansen has a "great rugby man with real nous", one who would often have the horse racing on when Smith entered his office for a coaching meeting.

Robbie Deans (L-R) Wayne Smith and Steve Hansen coached the Crusaders together in 2000.
PETER MEECHAM/STUFF
Robbie Deans (L-R) Wayne Smith and Steve Hansen coached the Crusaders together in 2000.

"He has done a lot of work in the way he presents himself to the public. The messaging he gives has been a big part of his coaching role, making sure the public are informed.

"But he's also calmed down a wee bit. The same with the team. I think he's become really skilled at that."

Smith sent Hansen a text message after the All Blacks were bundled out of the World Cup, a loss, along with the drawn Lions series, which removed some gloss from Hansen's career in recent years.

Losses to Ireland in Dublin last November and in Chicago in late 2016 also bruised the All Blacks' egos, as did the defeat to the Springboks in Wellington last year.

Hansen made a rare blunder when selecting his team to face England, electing to start Scott Barrett at blindside flanker for the first time in a test, and put Sam Cane on the bench.

The All Blacks didn't relinquish the Bledisloe Cup under Steve Hansen.
GETTY IMAGES
The All Blacks didn't relinquish the Bledisloe Cup under Steve Hansen.

The rationale was to give the All Blacks another tall man to pressure the opposition lineout, but it backfired and he was replaced by flanker Cane at halftime.

Read said his early memory of Hansen was that he encouraged him to improve.

"He was there when I first came in, and pushed me to better myself as a player. He has constantly been doing that since.

"He has grown as a coach as well. He is a world class operator. He loves what this team represents and he certainly does a great job in leading us."

It's a measure of Hansen's success that during eight years in charge, there were never calls for him to be sacked. 

Steve Hansen and wife Tash after his final match as All Blacks coach last weekend.
CAMERON SPENCER/GETTY IMAGES
Steve Hansen and wife Tash after his final match as All Blacks coach last weekend.

Unlike Henry, who was forced to survive the challenge mounted by Robbie Deans after the quarterfinal defeat at the 2007 World Cup, there was no danger of Hansen being dethroned.

After his appointment in 2012, he quickly proved he was willing to bring in fresh blood. Brodie Retallick, Aaron Smith, Beauden Barrett and Cane made their debuts in 2012, and were later installed as members of the leadership team.

A willingness to trust his instincts, listen to others and delegate are Hansen's major strengths.

Being bold with selections has also been a hallmark of his tenure; this year he switched Barrett to fullback to accommodate Richie Mo'unga at No 10, and started the inexperienced Sevu Reece and George Bridge on the wings ahead of Rieko Ioane and Ben Smith. 

Hansen was protective of players in his squad. If you were on the outer, he moved on quickly. 

All Blacks coach Steve Hansen made the bold call to start Sevu Reece, left, and George Bridge ahead of Rieko Ioane and Ben Smith in his final months.
ANDREW CORNAGA/PHOTOSPORT
All Blacks coach Steve Hansen made the bold call to start Sevu Reece, left, and George Bridge ahead of Rieko Ioane and Ben Smith in his final months.

"He has got a real good feel for the group, so he's a little more than a coach," Cane said. 

"He allows the other coaches to execute their roles. He is just a very intuitive coach who is not always on the money, but generally is not far off it."

Hansen's drive to succeed has not endeared him to everyone, and several Super Rugby coaches didn't see eye to eye.

Former NZ sevens coach Gordon Tietjens was in despair when a raft of All Blacks declined to play for him at the Rio Olympics in 2016, and although he never accused Hansen of making the players change their minds, it was clear someone had got in their ear.

Successful coaches can be ruthless. Hansen's decision to drop veteran tighthead prop Owen Franks before the World Cup signalled he was prepared to make the tough calls.

Kieran Read, left, is the second most capped All Blacks captain behind Richie McCaw, pictured visiting a NZ training last year.
HANNAH PETERS/GETTY IMAGES
Kieran Read, left, is the second most capped All Blacks captain behind Richie McCaw, pictured visiting a NZ training last year.

Read, who became the second most capped All Blacks captain behind McCaw in the bronze medal game, deserves the title of one of the All Blacks' greatest captains.

The best was Richie McCaw. Read comes next.

"They're both greats of the game, but they both understood that the way they build up would have an impact on the team, the way their standards were seen had a big impact," Smith said.

"But, most importantly, how much they gave on the field, how much blood they shed, how they played was the best way to lead. 
 

Kieran Read pictured during the All Blacks' bronze medal match against Wales last weekend, his final game for the side.
CAMERON SPENCER/GETTY IMAGES
Kieran Read pictured during the All Blacks' bronze medal match against Wales last weekend, his final game for the side.

"Leaders aren't born, I don't believe. They can learn like everyone else, and for me they both learnt through their periods to be great leaders. They picked up stuff along the way, they developed techniques and strategies which made them into great leaders."

As for Hansen, he is without peer. He won a World Cup as head coach, and was involved in the 2011 tournament as an assistant.

Under his guidance the All Blacks never relinquished the Bledisloe Cup

All Blacks coach Steve Hansen and wife Tash after his final match in charge of the side.
HANNAH PETERS/GETTY IMAGES
All Blacks coach Steve Hansen and wife Tash after his final match in charge of the side.

His longevity in the All Blacks, 16 years in total, speaks volumes.

But the loss to England will burn him for a long time to come. As he noted, sport, like life, isn't fair.

Not that Hansen wanted to talk about himself in his final days in the job. 

"I don't want to sound grumpy about that," he said. "If we start talking about me, it becomes about me. And I don't want it to be about me, the team is more important than me."

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