Steve Hansen: The Legacy by Gregor Paul
Steve Hansen is a New Zealand legend. His tenure with the All Blacks reaches far back before becoming Head Coach after Sir Graham Henry stepped down. It is under Hansen’s leadership that the All Blacks solidified their global rugby dominance, seemingly able to predict the tactics of the opposition and respond with force, discipline and focus.
Gregor Paul has produced a magnificent homage to the great coach, the great leader, and the great man that is Steve Hansen. As a rugby journalist, few compare to Gregor Paul’s knowledge and expertise. His ability to read the game and deliver comprehensive analysis is impressive - and this is translated into his book Steve Hansen - The Legacy. Paul has watched the career of Hansen and notes early in the book how impressive he has been from the early years.
Of course, the majority of the book is set around the time with the All Blacks. It is the season of Hansen’s life that is ultimately the stimulus for the book. It is a tremendous record that Hansen is able to achieve during his stay, one that is quite unparalleled. He was there when the famous depth in the All Black team was decimated, and he was also there for the successful retaining of the Rugby World Cup.
Dominance in sport comes at a price. There are certainly dark times too. Paul delves into the psychology of the team under Hansen’s leadership and how much more he had to contend with during his time than previous head coaches. The All Blacks are a team that are consistently in the spotlight with the national media and the weight of expectation. An insatiable thirst for news means that any small incident can be blown out of proportion, and large scale events become tsunamis of information.
When you are at the top, there is only one way that you can go and any loss for the All Blacks means the whole nation has the potential to turn against you fast. Hansen discusses the mental fortitude these players now have to obtain in order to perform at this level. Navigating the swelling torrent of social media during his reign of head coach, Hansen has to assist the players not only on the field, but also through their own media channels and therefore their head space.
Then a large proportion of the book is dedicated to the fateful campaign of the 2019 Rugby World Cup in Japan. There is quite a build up to this point with some chapters with the ominous titles such as ‘Storm Clouds Gather’ and ‘Fighting on all Fronts’. Laid out this way, it is not difficult to see the challenges that Hansen and the team faced during this time.
The title given to this journalistic memoir The Legacy perfectly captures the essence of the book. Hansen means so much to the world of rugby and is regarded highly not only in his own country, but internationally as a man of merit and discipline.
Overall, this is a cracking read for any rugby enthusiast, supporter of the All Blacks or not. The capacity of Steve Hansen is enviable. His ability to remain cool under pressure and focus in some of the most challenging and high stakes sports that there are around. Few teams have a winning record that comes anywhere near that of the All Blacks, and for that we must acknowledge the fastidiousness of coaches like Hansen.
Reviewer: Chris Reed