The 26 potential candidates to take over from Hansen
IN THE SPOTLIGHT: The search for Steve Hansen’s replacement is well underway at New Zealand Rugby headquarters, with chairperson Brent Impey announcing earlier this week that 26 people from around the globe have been invited to apply for the role of All Blacks head coach.
Given the prominence of Kiwi coaches worldwide, there are a plethora of individuals on the Super Rugby, European, Japanese and international scene – aside from departing Ireland head coach Joe Schmidt, whose unavailability for the All Blacks post has been confirmed – who may have made the cut.
As it is an official employment process, the identities of those 26 individuals will remain confidential, but that doesn’t stop the questioned being asked: who could be on that extended shortlist?
In an attempt to find an answer, we profile 26 potential candidates to lead the All Blacks towards the 2023 World Cup in France.
Ian Foster (All Blacks assistant)
Among the leading contenders to succeed his current boss, Foster appears to have the support of both Hansen and the senior crop of current All Blacks. Has been part of the All Blacks set-up since 2012 and was an assistant during New Zealand’s successful 2015 World Cup defence. Is likely to retain Scott McLeod as an assistant should he be elected into power. Lack of experience overseas could harm his chances, though, as could his track record as head coach with the Chiefs and Waikato, which saw just two final luckless NPC and Super Rugby final appearances in 2002 and 2009.
Scott Robertson (Crusaders)
One of the most successful Kiwi coaches over the past decade. Spent nine seasons with Canterbury as assistant and head coach between 2008 and 2016, winning domestic titles in all but one of those years. Has gone on to claim a hat-trick of Super Rugby titles with the Crusaders in his first three seasons there, and bagged a World Under-20 crown with the Baby Blacks in 2015 for good measure. Is thought that Irish legend and former Crusaders assistant Ronan O’Gara will form part of his coaching team if appointed. Would be a breath of fresh air within the All Blacks through his unorthodox coaching style, and well thought of by his Crusaders players. Like Foster, however, he has spent no time abroad as a professional coach.
Jamie Joseph (Japan)
The former All Black forward was one of the heroes of the recent World Cup, guiding an exciting Japan outfit to their maiden quarterfinal appearance on their home turf. Has plenty of experience both in New Zealand and offshore. Led the Highlanders to their only Super Rugby title four years ago and has spent time with Wellington, the Sunwolves and the Maori All Blacks since 2003. Joseph also has the guarantee of having the well-regarded Tony Brown by his side as an assistant should he apply for the role, which would continue their coaching partnership which first blossomed in Dunedin in 2013.
Dave Rennie (Glasgow Warriors)
Initially courted by Rugby Australia to replace outgoing Wallabies head coach Michael Cheika, Rennie will put those talks on hold after being shoulder-tapped by New Zealand Rugby for the vacant All Blacks position. Claimed three consecutive World U20 crowns with New Zealand between 2008 and 2010 before leading the Chiefs to their only two Super Rugby championships in 2012 and 2013. Has also worked with Wellington, the Hurricanes and the International Rugby Academy of New Zealand, and is currently earning his stripes overseas with Scottish Pro14 club Glasgow.
John Mitchell (England assistant)
Arguably the most experienced coach on this list after having coached at first-class level since the dawn of the professional age. His career has seen him coach in New Zealand, Australia, South Africa, England, Ireland and the United States, and was enlisted as England’s assistant coach last year, playing a key role in the side’s stern defence which nullified the All Blacks in the World Cup semifinal. Has already coached the All Blacks, leading them to an unsuccessful tilt at the 2003 World Cup in one of many title-less coaching campaigns, and would be considered a slim chance to re-claim the role he last held 16 years ago.
John McKee (Fiji)
Formerly the boss of Connacht, assistant of Australia U20 and the now-defunct Pacific Islanders, and technical advisor of Tonga, McKee has overseen the Flying Fijians since 2014. During his tenure in the Pacific, Fiji have become one of the most exciting international sides to watch in the world with their fluid attacking style of play thanks to the presence of the likes of Semi Radradra and Josua Tuisova. Recent shock loss to Uruguay in September is be a blemish on his otherwise impressive spell, and is likely to stay on with Fiji over the coming seasons.
Milton Haig (Georgia)
Cut his teeth in New Zealand’s provincial and representative ranks with Wanganui, Bay of Plenty, Counties Manukau, New Zealand U21 and the Maori All Blacks before assisting Foster at the Chiefs in 2011. Went on to take the reins of Georgia and led the Lelos to two World Cups, helping raise the profile of the national side significantly to become one of the world’s leading tier two sides. Would perhaps be more suited to a position with a Super Rugby team or a separate tier one nation before coming into All Blacks consideration.
Steve Jackson (Samoa)
Jumped straight into his coaching career after wrapping up his time as a player for Tasman in 2008. Assisted the Mako and Counties Manukau before leading North Harbour for three seasons, capping off his time in Auckland’s northern suburbs with a last-gasp Mitre 10 Cup Championship title in 2016. Spent time as an assistant coach at the Blues for two seasons before joining Samoa last year, but an underwhelming World Cup campaign should kill off any dim chance of him earning a surprise call-up to the All Blacks.
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Warren Gatland (Chiefs)
The vastly experienced 56-year-old has just ended his mightily successful 12-year stint with Wales, who he coached to three grand slam titles. A victorious British and Irish Lions campaign in Australia in 2013 and a drawn series against the All Blacks two years ago bolsters his impressive CV, which also includes gigs with Ireland, the Chiefs, Connacht, Wasps and Waikato. Will return to Hamilton next year to take over from Colin Cooper at the Chiefs, and will also oversee the Lions’ 2021 tour of South Africa. While he would be a very solid addition to the All Blacks, his commitments to both the Chiefs and Lions over the next four years will probably make a bid to take control of New Zealand’s premier side untenable.
John Plumtree (Hurricanes)
A hard-nosed operator, Plumtree is a seasoned veteran in the coaching game and has been particularly prevalent in Wellington and Durban since taking charge of his first professional side in 1997. Despite the raft of knowledge he has attained over the years with Wellington, the Hurricanes, the Sharks, Ireland and Japan, it would be hard to envisage the former South African Sevens representative taking the helm of the All Blacks. It would be conceivable, though, to see him join the national side in an assistant capacity, as he has done frequently in the past.
Aaron Mauger (Highlanders)
The former All Blacks flyhalf is realistically a long shot at being named as All Blacks head coach so early in his coaching career, after having only retired as a player in 2010. Now at the age of 38, Mauger has spent time with the Crusaders, Leicester Tigers and Samoa as both an assistant and head coach, but is very likely to remain in Dunedin with the Highlanders as his three-year contract with the franchise heads into its final season.
Leon MacDonald (Blues)
Like Mauger, it would be a shock to see MacDonald offered the role as Hansen’s replacement with his coaching career still in its infancy after coming into the ranks immediately after his playing retirement in 2010. Has only had one season as a head coach at Super Rugby level with the Blues after time with the Crusaders and Tasman, both sides of which he has assisted to Mitre 10 Cup Championship and Super Rugby titles.
Brad Thorn (Reds)
After having gone down in New Zealand rugby folklore as one of the game’s true hard men, the cross-code dual international has been climbing the coaching ladder in Australia since he ended his 23-year playing career with Queensland Country in 2016. The 44-year-old then overtook the reins of the NRC outfit a year later, and was promoted to head coach of the Reds last year. With only three years as a head coach behind him, and all that experience coming from Australia, there is still plenty of experience to be gained by Thorn before he comes into All Blacks consideration.
Rob Penney (Waratahs)
After leading Canterbury to four straight domestic crowns between 2008 and 2011 and claiming the World U20 title with a raft of current All Blacks during his two-year tenure with the Baby Blacks which ended in 2012, the 55-year-old moved to Ireland to take up a position with Munster. That led to a role with the Shining Arcs in the Japanese Top League in 2014, and he was recently named as Daryl Gibson’s replacement at the Waratahs for next year’s edition of Super Rugby. That move may rule him out of any involvement with the All Blacks over the coming four years, but a good run of results in Sydney could put him good stead for an application following the 2023 World Cup.
Tana Umaga (Blues assistant)
One of the most respected figures in New Zealand rugby circles, Umaga has endured a tough time as a coach since coming on board with the Blues in 2016. Prior to that, the 46-year-old enjoyed stints with Toulon and Counties Manukau, where he won the Mitre 10 Cup Championship in 2012 and secured the Ranfurly Shield for the first time in the province’s history a year later. Successful roles with the New Zealand U20 side and the Maori All Blacks have followed, but his demotion from head coach to assistant at the Blues last year shows he has work to do before clinching higher honours.
Mark Hammett (Highlanders assistant)
The former All Blacks hooker has slowly built a strong resume since first joining the Crusaders and Canterbury as an assistant coach in 2006. Head coaching positions with the Hurricanes and Cardiff Blues followed between 2011 and 2015, but word of player unrest under his rule at both teams – highlighted by the unceremonious sackings of All Black veterans Andrew Hore and Ma’a Nonu from the Hurricanes eight years ago – might be a cause of concern. The 47-year-old has since spent time with the Sunwolves, Japan and Tasman, and is now an assistant for Mauger at the Highlanders.
Tom Coventry (Blues assistant)
A highly-regarded coach in New Zealand, Coventry was one of Rennie’s assistants during the Chiefs’ back-to-back run of Super Rugby titles in 2012 and 2013. A spell with London Irish followed, but their relegation into the second-tier Championship saw him return to New Zealand to succeed Jackson as North Harbour’s head coach in 2017. He has since gone on board with the Blues as an assistant to MacDonald, and could become a valuable asset for the national side in the future.
Chris Boyd (Northampton Saints)
Established his credentials after guiding the Hurricanes to their maiden Super Rugby title in 2016. Before that, the 61-year-old held posts as an assistant with Wellington, the Sharks and Tonga, and then returned to Wellington and the Baby Blacks as a head coach prior to his arrival in Super Rugby. Is now based in England with the Northampton Saints, who he led to the Premiership play-offs for the first time in four years in his first season in charge. Another one to keep an eye on further down the track.
Pat Lam (Bristol Bears)
The former uncapped All Black and 34-test Samoa loose forward has had a distinguished coaching career since first signing with Scotland as an assistant at the 2003 World Cup. The 51-year-old went on to lead Auckland to two domestic titles in five years, and was the last coach to take the Blues to the Super Rugby play-offs. A one-off stint with Samoa in 2012 preceded a historic tenure with Connacht, where he coached the Irish side to their first-ever major trophy in 2016 when they claimed the Pro12 crown. Is now with the Bristol Bears in England, who he gained promotion out of the Championship with last year. Could be a serious contender for the All Blacks job in four years’ time.
Vern Cotter (Montpellier)
Was the only other applicant along with Hansen for the All Blacks job following the departure of Sir Graham Henry in 2011. Missed out despite his domestic and continental success with Clermont after having spent time with Bay of Plenty and the Crusaders. Became Scotland head coach in 2014, where he impressed en route to their controversial quarterfinal exit at the 2015 World Cup. Returned to France in 2017 with Montpellier, leading them to a Top 14 final appearance last year. Has plenty of credibility during his time in Europe, and will be an outside chance of securing the All Blacks job.
Simon Mannix (Pau)
The one-time All Black is another who has built a reputation for himself in the northern hemisphere during his time with Racing 92, Munster and Pau. It’s with the latter side where he has achieved the most after helping the club win promotion into the Top 14 for the first time in nine years in 2015. With Pau still yet to appear in the domestic play-offs since then, though, the step up to the All Blacks seems a bridge too far for Mannix.
Kieran Crowley (Benetton)
Extensive tenures with Taranaki (1998-2007) and Canada (2008-2016) illustrates the value each union held for the 19-test All Black, but neither spell garnered much silverware. The 58-year-old has since joined Benetton in the Pro14, and helped them become the first Italian club to qualify for the competition’s knockout stages. Would probably need to go further into the play-offs or go deep into the Champions Cup to really register on the All Blacks radar.
Brad Mooar (Scarlets)
Has worked his way from the ground up to establish himself as a man in demand on the European club scene. Was still coaching at grassroots level in Christchurch just eight years ago, and has climbed the ladder through the Southern Kings and Crusaders. Claimed three Super Rugby titles in his final three seasons with the latter franchise, and has recently been instated as head coach of Welsh club Scarlets. Will have to bide his time before mounting a serious bid to become All Blacks head coach.
Robbie Deans (Panasonic Wild Knights)
The most successful coach in Super Rugby history has already spent time with the All Blacks as an assistant under Mitchell between 2001 and 2003. Applied for the head coach role following New Zealand’s quarterfinal elimination from the 2007 World Cup, but missed out to Henry, so joined the Wallabies after winning his fifth title with the Crusaders. Nowadays, the 60-year-old is based in Japan with the Panasonic Wild Knights, where he has been since 2014. Despite his wealth of experience, a return to New Zealand’s top job is highly unlikely given his affiliation with Australia and current presence in an underwhelming club competition.
Wayne Smith (Kobelco Steelers)
Nicknamed the ‘professor’ thanks to his innovative coaching tactics and sharp rugby mind, Smith served as an assistant coach to both Henry and Hansen during their World Cup-winning terms in charge of the All Blacks. The 62-year-old has himself held the title of All Blacks head coach prior to Mitchell’s appointment in 2001, but it’s unlikely the 17-test first-five would return for a fourth time, as it is believed he is enjoying his time in Japan with reigning champions Kobelco.
Todd Blackadder (Toshiba Brave Lupus)
Recently joined the Toshiba Brave Lupus after a disappointing three-year gig with English club Bath. Before that, the former All Blacks captain had eight trophy-less years with the Crusaders, so it seems it would take something extraordinary for Blackadder to be considered a realistic proposition to be named as Hansen’s replacement.
By By Alex McLeod, @RugbyPass
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