Gregor Paul

Gregor Paul is the Herald on Sunday's rugby writer

Rugby: Hansen will have his time

Steve Hansen. Photo / Brett Phibbs
Steve Hansen. Photo / Brett Phibbs

When the New Zealand Rugby Union board sits down this week to deliberate the appointment of the next All Black coach, the taxing part will be determining the length of the contract.

It should take less than five minutes to agree the job has to be offered to Steve Hansen but longer to decide whether they want to continue with the current system of offering two-year deals that fall neatly into the World Cup cycle.

The surprise could be that Hansen is offered a three- or possibly four-year deal with clearly defined performance objectives that allow for the national body to terminate things relatively inexpensively should the new man struggle.

High performance director Don Tricker has conducted research into coaching contracts as part of his review of the recent World Cup campaign. His findings were presented to the board on Wednesday last week and will form a core part of the discussion when it comes to making the All Black appointment.

"We thought it was a good idea for the board to hear the preliminary findings [of the All Blacks review] before the coach interviews," NZRU chief executive Steve Tew said. "As you'd expect, it was largely positive given the season the guys have had."

The union has been locked into a pattern of two-year contracts for the All Blacks coach after some in-depth research in the wake of the 1999 World Cup disaster.

NZRU chief executive at that time, David Rutherford, canvassed opinion from a vast range of heavyweight figures and the conclusion was reached that two-year deals were in the best interests of the NZRU, the individual coach, the players and the All Black brand.

The World Cup has become the fulcrum - with the All Black coach effectively given two years to prove he can handle the job and if successful, another two years to build into the big event. There has been a reluctance to appoint an All Black coach for a period that either straddles the World Cup or would leave any successor with only limited time to prepare should there be a change between tournaments.

Much of that thinking has also been driven by the angst that was caused by repeated failures at World Cups. The longer the All Blacks went without winning a World Cup, the more determined they became and the more importance they attached to victory. That desire carried a whiff of desperation and was intriguingly mentioned by England's director of elite rugby Rob Andrew when he was out here with the national team in 2008. Intriguing in that Andrew was seemingly way more perceptive at analysing what was wrong with the All Blacks than he ever was in determining the root cause of England's multiple-problems.

"There is an obsession with the World Cup and we are now in the country that has the biggest obsession of all," he said. "Why haven't they won the title since 1987? Because they're too obsessed."

Maybe now that victory has finally been claimed, some of the desperation and edginess will have rescinded and the board may feel they no longer need to view the World Cup as a brick wall in contracting terms.

Other nations have held no such fears about the World Cup. Ireland extended Eddie O'Sullivan's contract in 2007 a few months before they endured a terrible campaign. Wales offered Warren Gatland a five-year extension in November 2010 and even the Wallabies had paperwork in front of Robbie Deans well before the World Cup this year.

The danger of the current All Black model is that it places enormous emphasis on the World Cup. In his eight-year tenure as All Black coach Graham Henry enjoyed a win ratio of 85 per cent; he won the Tri Nations five times three Grand Slams and a series against the Lions - and yet all of it would have counted for nothing had the All Blacks not won the World Cup in 2011.

That pressure to succeed at World Cup and for judgement on a coach to effectively be reserved until then has created issues: in Henry's first era between 2005 and 2007 he was licensed to experiment to a radical extent that made it hard for fans and players to appreciate test matches. If the NZRU makes the World Cup such a focal point then it is obliged to be lenient with coaches in the way they want to prepare for the tournament.

In all likelihood, Hansen will be offered the standard two years. There is little question he's the right man for the job now but the board may be concerned about the strength of his management team and want to see how they settle and cope with international rugby.

There is also an awareness the strongest domestic challenger, Todd Blackadder, is not quite ready yet but might be in position to step up in 2013.

- Herald on Sunday

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