Hansen, who has been involved with the All Blacks for 16 years – as an assistant coach between 2004 and 2011, and as head coach from 2012 until the end of this year – will step away from the national side at the end of this year’s World Cup in Japan.
Speculation has been rife as to who will replace him in 2020, with the likes of All Blacks assistant coach Ian Foster, Crusaders coach Scott Robertson, Ireland coach Joe Schmidt, Glasgow Warriors coach Dave Rennie, Japan coach Jamie Joseph and Montpellier coach Vern Cotter regarded as potential candidates to take the helm of the national side.
However, Henry, who won the 2011 World Cup in the final year of his eight-season span as All Blacks head coach, believes Gatland, the former All Black hooker who has coached Wales since 2007 and has led the Lions to successful tours of Australia in 2013 and New Zealand in 2017, is the prime prospect for New Zealand Rugby.
“It is highly probable,” he said when asked by the BBC if Gatland would receive the All Blacks coaching role.
“He has proved to be one of the best coaches in the world. There are guys like Joe Schmidt and Dave Rennie who are over there coaching who have done exceptional jobs who could also do a great job with the All Blacks.
“So there is a pretty competitive field right now, but Warren would be one of the front runners if he made himself available.”
Henry has a similar coaching background to Gatland, having coached both Wales and the Lions before joining the All Blacks in 2004, and the 73-year-old was full of praise for his compatriot, who he faced in the coaching box on five occasions between 2008 and 2010.
“He has done fabulously well and I was delighted for him when he toured New Zealand that his [2017 Lions] side was so competitive.”
Gatland’s 12-year tenure of Wales will come to an end following the World Cup in Japan in a few months’ time.
It will be his third World Cup, after having guided the Welsh to a fourth place finish in 2011, and then to a quarter-final exit in 2015.
Additionally, he has won three Six Nations Grand Slam titles, including the most recent edition earlier this year.
Gatland was last month named as coach for the British & Irish Lions’ tour of South Africa in 2021, becoming just the second coach in history to lead the Lions on three consecutive tours.
His role with the Lions in two years’ time may count against him when it comes to selecting Hansen’s replacement, but it appears a coaching role in Super Rugby would be Gatland’s preferred option from 2022 and beyond, as he told the BBC earlier this month.
“My future is going to be the 2019 World Cup [with Wales], look at a few things in between, and then the start of my [Lions] role in August 2020,” he said.
“I’ll focus 100% on the Lions for those 12 months and then hopefully have an opportunity to go back to New Zealand and pick up something and then take it from there.
“I would love to be involved with Super Rugby and to challenge myself with that.
“I want to go back. I have been head coach with Waikato and won a championship there, and I want to challenge myself with Super Rugby.”
Watch – Stateside with Ben Foden:
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