Scott Robertson has spoken of his disappointment at hearing Tony Brown had decided to support Jamie Joseph in his push to be the next All Blacks coach, but conceded: "I appreciate it was a tough call for him to make to me."
Crusaders coach Robertson had hoped to team up with Japan assistant coach Brown, whose stock rose significantly during the recent Rugby World Cup along with that of hosts Japan after their groundbreaking victories over Ireland and Scotland and meritorious performance in their quarter-final defeat to eventual champions South Africa.
The pair would have made a compelling partnership but instead Brown, who is returning to New Zealand to help Aaron Mauger with the Highlanders, has thrown his lot in with Joseph, the current head coach of Japan who also has All Black ambitions.
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"Tony made his call," Robertson said today. "It was a tough phone call to make. We had planned for a while to work together. He showed his hand to work with Jamie - and his loyalty. I appreciate it was a tough call for him to make to me."
Robertson, who spoke to the media at the official announcement of the New Zealand Super Rugby squads, will relinquish his role as Crusaders head coach should his All Black interview in early December go well and the recommendation of panelists Sir Graham Henry, Mark Robinson, Brent Impey, Mike Anthony and Waimarama Taumaunu is signed off by the New Zealand Rugby board.
But now the man known as Razor is in the process of finding another running mate to replace Brown, and he added: "That's part of the game. You have conversations with people and you work out the best options for yourself and what is going to be best for the team. They are private conversations as you can imagine."
Robertson, prepared for questions on his goal of replacing Steve Hansen but perhaps not expecting such an interrogation a month or so before his official interview, was asked whether his background of success with the Crusaders – three consecutive titles – and before that Canterbury, represented a good foundation for the role of All Blacks head coach.
He replied: "Do you have to lose to learn to be a better person and better coach? That's for them [panel] to decide.
"I've got my formula and I've worked really hard coaching schoolboy rugby through to club rugby and to Super Rugby. All the learnings along the way can help me in my quest to be All Black coach. It's up to them whether they feel that experience is enough. I think it was shown in the most recent tournament; the right person for the job is the key ingredient."
He also confirmed he had spoken to several mentors about the process, including Robbie Deans, a former Crusaders and Wallabies coach.
"I'm an extremely optimistic person," Robertson said. "It's in my nature to see a lot of opportunities in things. I need to have people to add a bit of realism. Without naming too many names, there are a lot of ex-Crusaders coaches who have influenced me. I've talked to them and have got pretty deep – you need to, it's a big process coming up and they've needed to challenge me and my thoughts and processes coming into it."
He said he and his family were ready for the step up in intensity and profile. "I'm really mindful of the status that it holds. It's one of the biggest jobs in the country, as we know. My wife Jane is in, we're all in. I've got three young sons who really understand – well, I'm not sure the youngest one understands but if we're all happy at home he's happy.
"It's a real passion of mine, I love what I do and the opportunity doesn't come around very often."
He has support if not sympathy from Blues rival Leon MacDonald, who worked under Robertson at the Crusaders in 2017 before shifting north. MacDonald, preparing for his second season with the Blues, said: "I know that my brain is working overtime on one job, so to have two in mind will be a challenge, but he's the sort of guy who can cope and do both well."