Comment: Schmidt or Foster - who should replace Steve Hansen?

Patrick McKendry, NZ Herald,
Publish Date
Thursday, 22 November 2018, 8:30PM
Steve Hansen and All Blacks assistant Ian Foster. (Photo / Photosport)
Steve Hansen and All Blacks assistant Ian Foster. (Photo / Photosport)

All Blacks coach Steve Hansen says he will announce whether or not he wants to continue in the role before Christmas.

He has, by all accounts, already decided. Now it's just a matter of timing. So which way will he go? And who's in line to succeed him after next year's World Cup if he decides to go?

We don't know the answer to the first question yet, but spending more time at his rural property near Prebbleton on the southern outskirts of Christchurch would probably appeal to the 59-year-old, as would the opportunity to spend more time with his family and a chance to step out of the public eye for the first time in many years.

It can't be easy being scrutinised to the extent Hansen is – and virtually everyone considers themselves a rugby expert in New Zealand - but if you're going to be defined by your job then being intimately involved in winning consecutive Rugby World Cups for your country (with the possibility of another in Japan) probably isn't the worst way to earn a crust.

So while we don't know which way he'll go, we can certainly look at his potential successors and you can probably count them on two fingers: Joe Schmidt, off contract with Ireland after next year's World Cup, and Ian Foster.

You can rule out Scott Robertson, the former All Black who has seen his stocks rise considerably at the Crusaders, as he's already stated his intention to stay at the franchise after leading them two Super Rugby championships in two years.

Robertson's time will come soon enough – he's probably in line to be the next-but-one head coach of the All Blacks for his ability to set a winning tone and carry it through with integrity and, crucially, fun.

He's also an expert on defence and we have seen recently in Andy Farrell's work with Ireland (and last year with the British and Irish Lions) how important that is at the top level.

If Hansen does call it quits then he will be asked at the media conference who he thinks his successor should be and he will probably say Foster, his assistant and a major sounding board since Hansen took over as head coach from Sir Graham Henry in 2012.

Unlike Hansen, who coached Wales for three years, including at the 2003 World Cup, and fellow Kiwi Schmidt, who has been with Ireland since 2013, Foster has never coached overseas, and that may count against him if and when the New Zealand Rugby board decide on Hansen's successor.

But what the approachable and open Foster will bring is a sense of continuity in terms of the game plan and his relationship with his players, and continuity has been a key plank to the All Blacks' success since 2008 when the same coaches – Hansen, Henry and Wayne Smith – were appointed despite the previous year's World Cup failure.

That bank of institutional knowledge certainly played a big part in the 2011 World Cup triumph, just as it did four years later, this time with Hansen at the helm with support by Smith and Foster.

But if it's about getting the most out of players, Schmidt, who, like Foster is in charge of his team's attack, certainly makes a good case here, and you could argue that his achievements in changing the Irish players' mindsets and skill levels to the extent where they are the No2 team in the world and have beaten the All Blacks twice in two years get pretty close to Hansen's.

If Hansen calls it quits, his position will be advertised globally in December next year.

Schmidt will make a compelling case for employment.