Sixteen years later, Mike Cron's unrivalled legacy of grooming front rowers is approaching its full stop with the All Blacks. He started with, and will finish alongside, Steve Hansen after the World Cup.

Throughout his time at the top of his field Cron has seen generations come and go, making an art form of a straight back and the perfect bind.

When he leaves the All Blacks his expertise and experience won't be lost, however, as he prepares to step back into a role he is passionate about – mentoring and developing New Zealand players and coaches for the international stage.

His job as All Blacks forwards coach is, of course, not over yet, with five tests before the quest for a third successive World Cup title in Japan begins.


But Crono, as he is known to most, took time out from his hectic schedule to reflect with the Herald on his career and, perhaps, somewhat underappreciated influence on not just the All Blacks, but New Zealand rugby as a whole.

"It's a long time isn't it? You look back when you were coaching Anton Oliver and those sorts of guys - that seems like 30, 40 years ago," Cron says. "I've got to get out before I start coaching their kids."

Cron feels privileged to be an integral cog in such a dominant machine for so long. Along the way he has watched the vast majority of the nine All Blacks' centurions, forming strong bonds with Keven Mealamu, Owen Franks and Tony Woodcock in particular.

That goes for all front-rowers under his remit, though. They are, after all, a breed of their own.

"They are special. They don't suffer fools. If you're a dickhead they'll tell you. A lot of them don't waste too many words in sentences. They keep it simple but that's not to say they're not bright. They keep things black and white, and that's the way I like it. We all know where we stand. They work hard and they get on with it."

Cron sits on 199 tests not out with the All Blacks, having been involved since 2004.

His favourite test is the remarkable comeback victory in Soweto in 2010, when the All Blacks scored two tries in the final three minutes – Israel Dagg raising his arm on the way to the match-winner after receiving the pass from Ma'a Nonu wearing one boot.

That day, in one of many great escapes, the All Blacks spoiled John Smit's 100th test in front of 94,000.


"Everyone that went there got given these bloody bongos and the noise was unbelievable," Cron recalls.

After the game Andrew Hore wondered aloud whether those vuvuzelas could provide a vessel.

"I managed to find one and cleaned it up. Sure enough you could pull it apart and have a drink out of it. They're all good memories.

"Those are the games you remember. The never say die attitude and whatever happens, happens. Sometimes you get out of jail, and sometimes you don't."

Two World Cup crowns and the 88.5 per cent win record (85/96) under Hansen since 2012 also provides a great source of pride.

"They're great for New Zealand and All Blacks history. Over all the course of our time we've put together a pretty good record that's going to be pretty hard for any other outfit to keep with over a long period of time.

"Every test we play it's like Federer playing Nadal. Some weeks it's a three setter and other weeks it goes to five. A couple of points here and there determines the game. That's what we do every week so to keep that record is pretty special."

Cron almost walked away to assume the same mentoring role after the 2011 World Cup, only for Hansen to convince him to re-sign with an expanded portfolio.

From 2004-11 Cron worked exclusively on the scrum but, for the past seven years, he has savoured the added responsibility of overseeing the breakdown, kick-offs and lineouts. It's a stimulating brief that has seen him take snippets from the ballet, cage fighting, shot put, sumo wrestlers, baseball, ice hockey and the NFL.

Last year alone, partly out of necessity, partly to growth depth, the All Blacks used 14 front rowers. Cron has moulded hundreds in his time, many of whom perch up on Friday nights before tests and talk anything but rugby over competitive games of backgammon and cups of tea.

These days Ian Foster is the man to beat but Cron more than holds his own.

"I come out about even."

With each passing year Cron has evolved. More ball in play, passing, tackling, ground covered and the quicker pace now require props to have fully-rounded skills. It's the hookers, though, Dane Coles and Codie Taylor specifically, who have carved a niche of their own by roaming the flanks and emulating midfield backs.

"That would be the biggest change to way back when. It's a different style of game now."

Cron is grateful to Hansen, a former police colleague, for giving him his "lucky break" with Canterbury in the late 90s and taking him through to the Crusaders and onto Wales, where they coached the first of their five World Cups in 2003. He pays tribute to those at the pointy end of NZ Rugby for the sustained success of the All Blacks, and also singles out Doug McClymont, a biomechanics expert, whom he regularly consults.

Turning 65 in December will allow for more time paddling in Christchurch's Governors Bay but Cron's contribution to the New Zealand game is far from over.

It's merely, almost, his time to give someone else their lucky break.

"Naturally you'll miss the sharp end of the stick; the real top end of sport. Now I can wind down a fraction but still keep developing young players and coaches to be mentally and physically ready for that top level.

"That's another era."

Anything like this one, and it's sure to be another immensely valued chapter.