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‘Embrace it’: Sir Steve Hansen’s insight for All Blacks coach Scott Robertson

By Finn Morton
Head Coach Scott Robertson and captain Scott Barrett look on during the New Zealand All Blacks 2024 season launch at NZCIS on June 26, 2024 in Upper Hutt, New Zealand. (Photo by Hagen Hopkins/Getty Images)

Rugby World Cup-winning head coach Sir Steve Hansen has warned new All Blacks coach Scott Robertson about the pressure and scrutiny he’ll face in the role, saying that fans will “want you to win better” even when results go their way.

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Robertson was officially unveiled as Ian Foster’s successor in the All Blacks’ hot seat in March 2023 before going on to win an unprecedented seventh Super Rugby title in as many years with the history-making Crusaders.

The All Blacks still made the Rugby World Cup final under coach Foster, but once that thriller at Stade de France came to a close, the dawn of a new era for the legendary sports team awaited.

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Throughout this year’s Super Rugby Pacific season, fans and pundits have theorised about the potential makeup of Robertson’s first All Blacks squad. The likes of Ruben Love and Hoskins Sotutu were labelled Test candidates but both were left out of the initial group.

Scott Barrett will captain New Zealand under Robertson, with the All Blacks squad for two Tests against England and a clash with Fiji in July having been announced on Monday. It’s almost time for Robertson to experience the “scrutiny” of the head coach role.

“If you go into it and don’t expect to be scrutinised, you’re naïve. It’s a job that comes with constant pressure all the time because of that scrutiny,” Hansen said on The Times’ The Ruck podcast.

“If you’re lucky enough to get success then you tend to get a little more wriggly room. Even though you might be winning, they want you to win better.

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“It’s something that we accept as the norm because if you’ve got people externally wanting you to achieve these things, internally your motivation’s even stronger.

“You’ve got to embrace it, be yourself. You can’t talk about a legacy if you don’t understand it, you don’t know it,” he added. “Do your research and make sure that you understand the past so you can be part of the future, and help shape the future.

“I think there’s a real excitement in being able to do that as a coach and player, and getting your players to understand that whether they play one Test or 148, there’s going to be a story told about time in the jersey.

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“It’s a privilege to put it on once, twice, every time you put it one, it’s just a privilege, but it’s also an opportunity to really express yourself, your story and have it told in a positive manner, and that’s about your preparation.

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“If you go into something half prepared, you don’t put in the performance that you’re capable of, so your Sunday to Friday work is the most important time of the week, and that allows Saturday to be the fun part.”

Robertson has named George Bell, Pasilio Tosi, Wallace Sititi, Cortez Ratima and Billy Proctor as the five uncapped players in squad for the July internationals. Without the likes of Aaron Smith and Sam Whitelock, this feels like the start of a new chapter.

Fans were calling for Robertson’s appointment for what felt like forever. The former Crusaders boss was a popular choice to take over from Foster so fans are especially excited about what ‘Razor’ can achieve now that he’s been given the nod.

But as Hansen touched on above, the expectations set of the team are high, and the scrutiny that follows matches that intense support. There’s nobody more fitting to speak about what it’s like than Hansen, who helped the All Blacks win back-to-back World Cup crowns in 2011 and 2015.

Hansen has gone down in history as one of the greatest rugby union coaches of all time, having experienced the highs of taking the All Blacks to world title glory and the lows of falling short of the mark in 2019.

But after experiencing all that pressure, Hansen still described the job as “enjoyable.”

“Every day was a privilege, it’s not a throwaway line,” Hansen reflected. “To be able to coach rugby in New Zealand and the national team in New Zealand, it’s the highest thing you could do from a rugby point of view.

“You’re dealing with a lot of talented people, not just athletes but your staff are all very, very good at what they do.

“It’s just an enjoyable time and I think if you accept the pressure is going to be there and then work out how you’re going to deal with it before it actually hits you in the face, it actually becomes a little easier to do.”

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