By Greg Stutchbury
TOKYO (Reuters) – While Steve Hansen still has a week left in charge of the All Blacks, his tenure with the side effectively ended with their 19-7 Rugby World Cup semi-final loss to England in Yokohama Stadium on Saturday.
Hansen is stepping down at the end of the World Cup and the comprehensive beating was a disappointing footnote for a coach considered one of the greats of All Blacks history.
Hansen fashioned a winning record of almost 90% in his eight years in charge of the team, including a World Cup win in 2015.
While Hansen has not said what his future plans are, England coach Eddie Jones told reporters after the semi-final that his counterpart was heading to Japanese club Toyota.
The 60-year-old is not the only person departing the side, with captain Kieran Read and fullback Ben Smith – two players that personified the team’s high standards under Hansen – heading for Japan and France, respectively.
Senior locks Brodie Retallick and Sam Whitelock and fullback Beauden Barrett are also taking New Zealand Rugby-agreed breaks as they manage their workloads while building to the next World Cup in France in 2023.
Hansen’s successor will therefore need to not only stamp his own blueprint on his first team next July when they take on Wales and Scotland, but also bring through several new faces and get them up to speed to satisfy a public used to success.
His assistant Ian Foster said he was keen to put his hand up for the top job, and the World Cup in Japan was essentially an extended first interview for the former Waikato flyhalf.
Had the All Blacks completed a third successive win, few would have doubted whether Foster did not deserve the chance to step out of Hansen’s shadow.
Not making the final, however, could now count against Foster who is already facing at least one confirmed challenger in the Canterbury Crusaders Scott Robertson, who has led his former team to three successive Super Rugby titles.
Other international coaches may lay their cards on the table after the tournament, with Warren Gatland heading back to New Zealand from Wales to coach his hometown Waikato Chiefs.
Gatland, however, has agreed to take the British and Irish Lions to South Africa in 2021, which could rule him out of contention until at least then.
While Hansen and his predecessor Graham Henry had eight-year tenures with the team, NZR has typically only given their coaches a two-year contract and then extended it until the end of the World Cup cycle based on their success.
A drop in performances under a new coach over the next two seasons could open the door for Gatland to a shot at the job, which he has long been linked with, after the Lions tour ends.
Japan’s Jamie Joseph has also been touted after he led the hosts to the quarter-finals, although local media said he had agreed a contract extension with the Brave Blossoms.
(Reporting by Greg Stutchbury; Editing by Lincoln Feast.)