Steve Hansen has confirmed what everyone expected – that after 15 years at the heart of the All Blacks, seven as head coach, he will step down after next year’s Rugby World Cup in Japan.

New Zealand Rugby has prepared for Hansen’s departure and will begin a recruitment process which will focus not just on individual contenders to replace Hansen but the names and attributes of the management team each would bring with them to the role.

The Kiwi-born coach of Ireland Joe Schmidt has suggested he would also take a break from all coaching after the Cup for personal reasons but that will not prevent NZ Rugby from pursuing him and attempting to meet the needs of Schmidt and his family. Schmidt’s 15 year-old son, Luke, has severe epilepsy – a condition reportedly best cared for in a major international centre. The Ireland chief has, however, indicated that “you never say never” to future opportunities in rugby.

Schmidt’s teams won the Six Nations championship three times, including one Grand Slam, and Ireland scored its first and second victories over the All Blacks, and first over South Africa, under his command.

Crusaders coach Scott Robertson will likely also be in the frame.

But the incumbent assistant coach Ian Foster, who like Hansen before him to Sir Graham Henry has been part of a powerhouse coaching group, would bring continuity and a devil-you-know comfort to rugby bosses.

Hansen’s extraordinary success of an 88 percent win record across seven years as head coach, which exceeded even Henry’s, is considered to have resulted in part from a group approach he brought to coaching the team. With Foster and Wayne Smith, plus specialist coaches, he guided the All Blacks through a gilded era as the world’s number one team and to a repeat World Cup title in 2015. Since 2012, Hansen’s teams have played 95 tests for 84 victories, three draws and eight losses.

The side seemed to show signs of decline this season, losing to both South Africa and Schmidt’s Ireland and only narrowly saving two other tests versus the Springboks and England. In the head coach’s unique parlance, those performances were probably best ‘flushed down the dunny’ as the team now builds for Japan next year.

Hansen suggested after the 2015 World Cup win that he wouldn’t take the team as far as Japan but has been prevailed upon and with continuing success in all competitions in 2016, 2017 and this year now has the chance to win two titles in his own right and a historic three-peat for New Zealand.

From Mosgiel dairy farming stock and time as a midfield back for Canterbury and former detective in Christchurch, Hansen’s tenure in the big chair and his laconic and direct post-match observations have won him national and international acclaim.

Like Henry, he previously served as head coach for Wales and was in the red coaching box against his country of birth for the 2003 World Cup match, which John Mitchell’s All Blacks won.

For New Zealand Rugby, the decision on the Hansen replacement for 2020 onwards is huge. The person taking over will either inherit a team on top of the world, for the third time in succession, and be charged with maintaining that unprecedented era – or will take over as the All Blacks slip from greatness and need a re-boot after 16 long years of Stephen William Hansen, CNZM.

Tim Murphy is co-editor of Newsroom. He writes about politics, Auckland, and media. Twitter: @tmurphynz

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