By Greg Stutchbury
TOKYO (Reuters) – All Blacks coach Steve Hansen was not prepared to think about it and Ireland’s Joe Schmidt did not address it, yet Saturday’s World Cup quarter-final between their sides will mark an end of an era for one of the head coaches.
Both Hansen and Schmidt are stepping down from their respective roles at the conclusion of their team’s involvement in the tournament in Japan.
“Come the final whistle one (team) will go right and one will go left,” Hansen told reporters this week.
“As (Snagglepuss) said, stage right would be the way to go,” he added in reference to the Hanna-Barbera cartoon character whose catch phrase was ‘exit stage left’.
“One of us will be going home. But that’s just the cold, hard facts about the World Cup… We all understand that.”
The 60-year-old Hansen has not confirmed his post-World Cup plans, but New Zealand media reported earlier this year he was moving to a director of rugby role with a Japanese club.
Hansen, who is already regarded as one of New Zealand’s greatest rugby coaches and could cement his legacy by guiding the team to a third successive World Cup title, has refused even to think about what it might mean if his side lose on Saturday.
“It’ll affect me when it’s finished. You haven’t got any room to get gaga emotional. You’re here to do a job,” Hansen said.
“The team is bigger than the individual, always has been, always will be.
“The jersey and legacy of the jersey demands you to be there giving 100% of what you have. So you don’t have time to think about yourself. You’re thinking about the job you’ve got to do.
“When the tournament is over, that’s when you step back and have a reflection and think about what’s next and what life will be like. But at the moment, it’s not even in your mind.”
Following Hansen will be a hard task and his current understudy Ian Foster has already indicated his willingness to step into the spotlight in 2020.
Schmidt was also touted as a potential successor to Hansen but said he was not planning on coaching at all in 2020 in order to spend more time with his family.
He barely touched on the ramifications of an Ireland loss on Saturday, and instead preferred to focus on the good relationship he had with his fellow New Zealanders.
“They’re good guys to have a drink with afterwards,” Schmidt said. “I don’t really enjoy the rivalry.
“It’s hard for anyone not to have respect for what the All Blacks have achieved.
“As a coach, coming from New Zealand, seeing those guys at the top of the tree, it’s pretty awesome to be in the mix coaching against them.
“We look forward to catching up and then we’ll both sit nervously in the coaches’ boxes and hope that our teams can get the result on the day.”
(Reporting by Greg Stutchbury; Editing by Toby Davis)