Rassie’s brain worthy match for Hansen: author


Cape Town – It
is a titanic early clash at the 2019 Rugby World Cup … and the Springboks will
have sufficient intellectual clout from head coach Rassie Erasmus to give the
All Blacks, masterminded by revered counterpart Steve Hansen, a serious run for
their money.

That is the
belief of Peter Bills, veteran international rugby scribe and recent author of
All Black-geared book The Jersey: The
Secrets Behind The World’s Most Successful Team.

The Boks
open their account at the Japanese-hosted event with a Pool B cracker against
the defending champions at Yokohama on September 21.

Bills was
given generous access to the views of Hansen, who steps down after RWC
following some seven years as All Black coach, during his research for the
book.

Speaking
during a visit to the Cape last week, the writer said Hansen headed up a
formidable brains trust, although the possibility of assistant Ian Foster fairly
seamlessly assuming the reins post-World Cup might depend on New Zealand
winning it for an extraordinary third time in a row.

In the
meantime, however, 59-year-old Hansen might have his hands full repelling the
challenge this year of rivals like Erasmus, who is in just his second season as
Bok coach and significantly younger at 46.

“What you
get with Rassie is very deep pragmatism … you get a pride, a real demand for
pride, and if you don’t show it, you won’t be in that team for too long. That’s
a big (similarity) with Steve Hansen.

“I think
he’s (Erasmus) a guy who wants 100 percent, wants you to wear your heart on
your sleeve, give everything. But all within the confines of organisation in
the modern game, of course: you don’t get far on adrenaline alone and Erasmus
knows that.

“You won’t
win a World Cup that way. You need that pragmatic, essential quality that he
has prepared assiduously in every sense. He makes sure exactly what is expected
of his players.

“I don’t
think he stands on rooftops and shouts to the media about what he wants, but he
is a very shrewd coach; right choice at right time.”

What did
Bills learn of NZ counterpart Hansen’s character in his exclusive access to
him?

“He totally
masks his feelings, publicly. He’s not dispassionate, though … be sure not to
confuse that. A lot calmer and less animated than someone like (a Bok
predecessor) Heyneke Meyer, although everyone is different and those two are
still friends … talk quite often, I believe.

“Hansen is a
guy who I think goes straight to the point, like an arrow to the heart. If
you’re failing to do something he will say ‘I want this, I don’t want that: what
don’t you understand about it?’

“He is so
direct; doesn’t waste energy or emotion. When you watch the All Blacks train
under him it is all so business-like.”

Asked
whether Hansen commanded the type of aura which soccer’s Sir Alex Ferguson once
enjoyed as Manchester United boss, Bills said: “I think probably that’s a very
good analogy … he is the sort not to suffer fools.

“Steve
reveals a certain amount but he won’t reveal everything … to you, me or anybody
else. But he did open up a bit about his family and so on. A very interesting
figure.

“I raise the
suggestion in the book about whether he might be employed further, once he goes
as All Black coach, in some sort of overlord capacity.

“Whether he
would want such a hands-on role down the line, I am not sure. But there must be
a role somewhere for all that knowledge. I’d be surprised if he said a blanket
‘that’s it, no more rugby’. He might want a year or so’s break, but it’s in his
blood.”

Just as
Hansen ascended to the All Black coaching throne after earning his stripes on
the support-staff ladder, would Foster represent a natural progression to the
role for the post-2019 national side?

Bills says:
“I’m pretty sure that’s what the New Zealand Rugby Union would like … there’s a
‘but’, though.

“I think
that in the last 12 months the gap has narrowed between New Zealand and the
rest. On a given day, several countries could knock them over in a World Cup.

“South
Africa could, if they get the bit between the teeth, also England, Wales, maybe
Ireland, although I think they have dipped a bit this season.

“So if New Zealand
don’t win the World Cup, I think their original idea of backing another guy who
has been deep in the system for a long time, seven years, might just start to
be reviewed. Particularly if Warren Gatland was still available: he’s just won
the Grand Slam, and if Wales even go on to win the World Cup, would they really
not consider him?

“They are
not like that. They are ruthless and pragmatic. But ideally, yes, they would
love Foster to take over.”

*The Jersey: The Secrets Behind The World’s
Most Successful Team
, by Peter Bills, is published by Pan Macmillan and
available at leading SA bookstores. Recommended retail price R290.

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Publish date : 2019-03-18 17:04:00

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