Former All Blacks Test lock Ali Williams pays homage to departing head coach Steve Hansen in his exclusive RugbyPass column.
Steve Hansen is definitely a man with a lot of character.
He has his own way of doing things. He’s quite personable in terms of his understanding of players, his skill is finding and understanding what a player really wants to do and achieve.
He’s the type of guy that mentally gets inside you because he doesn’t give a lot away. You’ll sit there talking to him, he’ll be asking you questions and giving you statements, but you’ll rarely get an answer.
Basically, you’ll walk away not too sure of exactly what he wants, so you turn it onto yourself and think ‘I had just better play well, because if I play well and do the work I’ll gain his respect and I’ll gain his trust’.
Once you gain that trust, he’s very loyal. If you don’t let him down he’ll stick by you and stand up for you. We’ve seen that recently when he’s stood up for Beauden and Kieran this year.
He tries to create a unique relationship with players. There’s a friendship element, but as I said, he’ll never give you a straight answer. You’ve got to find the answer within yourself.
That’s how he gets the best out of people – it’s the old policeman type of attitude where he’s not going to tell you what he saw or what he thinks, you’re going to tell him what you think and saw, and if it matches what he thinks then you’re on the same page. If it doesn’t then he’s going to get you to come up to where he needs you to be.
He’ll ask ‘do you think you’re fit?’ and you’ll turn around and think ‘well maybe I’m not that fit’ so you’ll get fitter.
One of the things that stands out about Steve’s character is the now-famous ‘sweeping the sheds’ movement.
He was the one that started the whole thing.
It was quite simple – there was about six of us at Twickenham having a beer after we’d won. He turned around and said ‘geez, bloody pig sty this place, might as well clean it up’.
He started cleaning it up, so we started cleaning it up with him.
It got to the point where cleaners came in and said we can do it – but we said no, we’ll do it. We stayed and cleaned the whole shed, a nod to the old adage that you leave something better than you found it.
That was one of the things he drove. This is the type of man he is and this is the type of leadership he has.
Now it’s recognised as one of the 15 All Black principles, as outlined in Legacy by James Kerr.
When I played in France, the baggage men, staff and grounds keepers would say, “you always know when the visiting side had an All Black because the changing room would be left clean”.
It just goes to show that once you’re an All Black, you’re always an All Black – something Steve would often say.
To me, that sums Steve Hansen up. He’s not overly technical but you don’t need to be at that level. He’s a person that can get inside your brain and understand you and get the best out of you. He makes you believe what you need to believe to perform at your best.
That’s part of what differentiates Steve Hansen from other All Black coaches. He was very much on the forefront of the youth in terms of the players’ mind. He got down to that level.
Wayne Smith and Graham Henry were very technical and analytical coaches while Hansen was very individualised to ensure he got the best out of every player. Sometimes he’d do your head in, put you into a complete head spin, but it worked.
He also didn’t mind the odd joke – with me normally the butt of it.
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