Big boots to fill
December 15, 2011
Steve Hansen has enjoyed huge success alongside Graham Henry © Getty Images
Steve Hansen is on the verge of being named the All Blacks' head honcho and will be tasked with filling the sizeable boots of World Cup-winning coach Graham Henry.
But Henry is just the latest in a long line of coaches who have tasted success by harnessing the leading lights in New Zealand rugby. This week's Scrum Sevens looks back at who Hansen succeeds and their achievements while in charge of the world's most famous side.
Sir Brian Lochore - 1985-1987
Although originally keen to pursue a career as a jockey, Lochore found his way into rugby while at Wairarapa Primary School. After excelling for Wairarapa and also Masterton at club level, Lochore went onto accrue 25 Test caps for the All Blacks - 18 of which were as captain - and tasted defeat just three times.
He went on to cut his coaching teeth at Masterton before taking the reins at Wairarapa-Bush in 1980, leading them to the First Division within two seasons. Having taken on the role of a New Zealand selector in 1983, he was appointed boss of the All Blacks in 1985. Lochore's achievements as coach included leading a young New Zealand side - labelled the 'Baby Blacks' to a 19-7 victory over France in Toulouse in 1986 but it would be a victory over Les Bleus the following year that would cement his place in history.
Lochore masterminded the Kiwis' victory at the inaugural Rugby World Cup, held in New Zealand, with their triumph sealed with a 29-9 victory over France in the Eden Park finale. As a result, Lochore completed his tenure as All Blacks coach with an impressive winning ratio of 77.7%.
Alex Wyllie - 1988-1991
Wyllie played his first class rugby with Canterbury and took on the responsibility of coaching the side in 1982. Under his tutelage, the side enjoyed huge success including taking the Ranfurly Shield from Wellington in 1983 and holding onto it for three years. The also laid claim to the National Provincial Championship crown in 1983 - a year that also included a victory over the British & Irish Lions.
He formed part of the All Blacks' selection panel in 1986 and, alongside John Hart, assisted Lochore throughout the 1987 World Cup. Following Lochore's departure, Wyllie stepped up to take charge - much to the annoyance of Hart, though his time would come later. He enjoyed undoubted success - losing just two games to Australia - but ahead of the 1991 World Cup the NZRFU chose to draft Hart in alongside him. Wyllie and Hart's joint role failed to pay dividends as the All Blacks crashed out of the tournament with a semi-final defeat to Australia. Wyllie's side still boasted a winning ratio of 86.2% but he chose to resign with the coaching duties eventually falling to Laurie Mains.
Laurie Mains - 1992-1995
Mains played his first class rugby for Otago and earned 15 caps for the All Blacks between 1971-76. He later returned to his provincial roots where he coached for eight years before being chosen as the man to replace Wyllie and Hart. Tasked with steering the All Blacks towards the 1995 World Cup, Mains' run up to the showpiece event was far from straight forward with his side tasting a worrying eight defeats.
But despite their form, the All Blacks - complete with emerging superstar Jonah Lomu - were hot favourites going into the tournament. But playing in a country buoyed by new found optimism following Nelson Mandela's appointment as president of South Africa, they faced a tough ask to add to their 1987 triumph. The All Blacks waltzed to the final but came undone against the Springboks in the title-decider - losing 15-12 thanks to an extra-time drop goal from Joel Stransky. Mains oversaw two more matches against France - losing one - before leaving his job with a win ratio of 67.6% - the lowest since John Stewart stint as coach between 1974-1976.
John Hart - 1996-1999
Hart finally made up for being overlooked for the top job in New Zealand rugby earlier in his career by being appointed the All Blacks' coach in 1996. The All Blacks experienced huge success under his guidance - claiming their first series win in South Africa and three Tri-Nations titles in 1996, 1997 and 1999. They found themselves on familiar ground as favourites going into the 1999 World Cup but they would fall to France in the semi-finals with the scant consolation of a fourth place finish - after also losing to South Africa in the play-off.
Hart followed the example set by his predecessors by falling on his sword and admitted that the pressure of the job had got to him. "I've had four years, we've won the Tri-Nations three times and we've had some wonderful times," Hart said. "But it's a very demanding job coaching the All Blacks - it's one that takes its toll. I believe it is really important for me to face the New Zealand public after what has happened. I understand there has been a tremendous amount of flak flying."
Wayne Smith - 2000-2001
Smith had a distinguished career on the field for Canterbury and the All Blacks and would later take the coaching hotseat at the Christchurch-based Crusaders where he tasted Super Rugby glory in 1998 and 1999. During those success-laden seasons, Smith served as an assistant to All Blacks boss Hart and would eventually replace him in 2000.
Smith failed to inspire the side to Tri-Nations glory and following the All Blacks' narrow Bledisloe Cup loss to the Wallabies in 2001, he resigned his post - with some encouragement from the NZRU. Smith journeyed to England to take up the coaching role at Northampton Saints before returning to New Zealand in 2004 to act as an assistant to All Blacks head coach Graham Henry.
John Mitchell - 2001-2003
A stalwart of Waikato rugby during his playing career, his coaching skills were nurtured in the northern hemisphere with Sale, Wasps and then as an assistant to England coach Clive Woodward. He returned to New Zealand to take charge of the Chiefs for the 2001 Super Rugby season and at the end of that campaign he was chosen to replace Smith as All Blacks coach.
Despite a loss on home soil to England in the build up to the 2003 World Cup, the All Blacks still entered the tournament as favourites but they would once again fail to deliver on the sport's biggest stage with hosts Australia sending them packing in the semi-finals. Mitchell's spell in charge returned a win ratio of 82.1% and he would go on to extend his coaching career with Waikato, Australian side Western Force and the Lions in South Africa.
Graham Henry - 2004-2011
Following spells with Auckland, the Blues, Wales and the British & Irish Lions, Henry edge out Mitchell for the All Blacks job in the wake of their latest World Cup failure. That was the start of an extremely successful eight-year stint as coach that brought a World Cup win and five Tri-Nations titles along with a win ration of 85.4% - but it was not always plain sailing for 'Ted.'
Heading into the 2007 World Cup with that year's Tri-Nations title in the bag, Henry found himself in a similar position to many of his predecessors. But their favouritism failed to propel them to glory with a determined France and a few dubious calls ending their hopes at the quarter-final stage. However, Henry survived calls for his head and the promotion of the then Crusaders boss Robbie Deans to earn a second crack at landing the big one.
Tri-Nations glory followed in 2008 and 2010 with a World Cup on home soil offering a perfect chance for redemption. His side survived the loss of influential playmaker Dan Carter to battle their way to the final where a narrow 8-7 victory over France secured the sport's top prize and ended 24 years of hurt. A national hero, Henry called time on his career with assistant Hansen looming large as his natural successor.
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