There are, apparently, lies, damned lies and statistics, but you can stack the numbers any way you like and still conclude that Steve Hansen is the best coach the All Blacks have had.

Under Hansen, the All Blacks have played 96 tests, winning 85, losing eight and drawing three. That's a success rate of 88.5 per cent, a stunning achievement in the professional game with all the scrutiny and pressure that comes with it and one that will probably never be beaten.

The late Fred Allen won all 14 tests as All Blacks coach, including the 4-0 sweep over the British and Irish Lions in 1966, but the European game wasn't as strong then as it is now and Hansen's longevity – he's been in charge since 2012 and had a big hand in the winning of the 2011 World Cup – is another tick in the win column for a man extremely familiar with success.

The losses during Hansen's tenure have been against Ireland (twice), Australia (twice), South Africa (twice), England and the British and Irish Lions. The draws were against the Wallabies (twice) and the Lions.

Advertisement

Hansen's record stands above that of Graham Henry (85 per cent), John Mitchell (82 per cent) and Wayne Smith (70 per cent) in the professional era.

So what has been the recipe for Hansen's success? How did he help turn around a team known for choking at World Cups to the point where they are now on the verge of going for a third successive triumph?

Steve Hansen coached Canterbury between 1996 and 2001. Photo / Getty
Steve Hansen coached Canterbury between 1996 and 2001. Photo / Getty

A bit like rugby itself at times, the answer is both straightforward and a little complicated, but Hansen's best talent and one that he has always possessed (along with his late father, Des, a very good club coach himself and one with a similarly large personality and refined wit), is the ability to spot talent and know when a player is ready to excel at the next level.

Steve Hansen, now 59, discovered he had this when he started coaching at Christchurch's High School Old Boys (after playing his senior rugby in the midfield for Marist, their rivals up the road), and he had it at Canterbury (as a head coach) and the Crusaders (an assistant only).

Hansen has always been keen on horse racing, and like a good equine trainer, he has the knack of spotting talent that others might miss, and the crucial ability of knowing which buttons to push to get the best out of that talent. It's not an exact science, more an instinctive thing, and Hansen is known as one of the best selectors the game has seen.

One of the most obvious examples of this was the then Canterbury coach's discovery of a young man by the name of Richie McCaw, whom he watched play for Otago Boys' High School against Rotorua Boys' at Lancaster Park in a national secondary schools match.

Canterbury's chief executive at the time was Steve Tew, New Zealand Rugby's boss and a man with whom Hansen has had a long friendship.

"I went into Tewie's office and said [no matter] how much he costs, just get him," Hansen said on the eve of McCaw's 100th test in Cardiff in 2014. "This kid's special."

Steve Hansen and
Steve Hansen and " The Kid" Richie McCaw after winning the 2015 Rugby World Cup final. Photo / Getty

The "kid" McCaw ended up playing 148 tests, 110 as captain, and will go down as probably the greatest ever to pull on the black jersey.

McCaw was just one of his stars; Hansen has also been fortunate to have at his disposal such players as Dan Carter, Ma'a Nonu, Conrad Smith, Ben Smith, Kieran Read, Brodie Retallick, Owen Franks, Dane Coles - the list of men who could virtually select themselves goes on and on but such players require careful handling too and Hansen has done this expertly.

Hansen's relationship with Tew has also been significant because the coach has generally got whatever he has wanted in terms of support from Tew and the national body's board.

It's all about the All Blacks – including the management of their senior players at their Super Rugby franchises, and, for example, the sending a mammoth squad to Japan last month for the tests a week apart against Australia and the Brave Blossoms in order to have a settled and rested squad in London for the test the next week against England.

Any dissent in this area would likely be met with a blunt "so you don't want the All Blacks to win the next World Cup, then", and to be fair to Hansen and New Zealand Rugby, this prioritising of the national team has reaped the required rewards without too much detriment to the Kiwi Super Rugby sides, who have won the championship seven times since 2008.

Steve Hansen has enjoyed a close relationship with New Zealand Rugby chief executive Steve Tew for a number of years. Photo / Photosport
Steve Hansen has enjoyed a close relationship with New Zealand Rugby chief executive Steve Tew for a number of years. Photo / Photosport

Hansen had a huge influence on the 2011 World Cup winning team alongside Graham Henry, a campaign which ended in an excruciating one-point victory over France in the final which avenged their quarter-final defeat to the same opposition four years earlier, a campaign too which was marked by a vastly improved mental approach from the players and management.

This is another key factor in Hansen's success. He is known as a stubborn individual who some might say is happy to lose an argument only if he gets the last word, but he is also willing to change and embrace ideas – including the use of mental skills guru Ceri Evans (which was crucial, according to McCaw) - which might jar with others.

The 2011 World Cup was characterised by the All Blacks' "walk towards the pressure" approach, and the one four years later in England and Wales was marked by an "enjoy the moment" stance and the players' happiness and openness to all (off the field) was real rather than contrived. They were mostly a joy to be around from a media perspective when the expectation and glare of the spotlight might have sent them in a different direction.

The former freezing worker and policeman who moved with his family from a Mosgiel dairy farm to Christchurch when he was aged 15 can be blunt but also extremely funny.

He doesn't suffer fools but can show extreme patience too. He's not one for moving, but he's also prepared to change in order to improve himself and help the team, always the team.

He has another year to go, unless he decides to stay on after the World Cup. Either way, once he's gone we'll never see a coach like Steve Hansen again and that's no lie.