Search begins for next All Blacks coach

WELLINGTON, New Zealand (AP) — The most sought-after coaching position in world rugby became available Friday when All Blacks head coach Steve Hansen announced he will step down after the 2019 World Cup.

The search for Hansen's successor begins immediately and already some of the top coaches in the rugby world have indicated their interest.

Hansen has been involved with the All Blacks since 2004 as an assistant coach, after previously coaching Wales, and since 2012 as head coach.

In those roles he has been part of World Cup victories in 2011 and 2015 and hopes to end his career with an unprecedented third-straight win in Japan next year. Making himself a hard act to follow, he has also won 85 of his 96 tests in charge for a win rate of 88.5 percent.

Hansen told reporters at a news conference Friday he believes the All Blacks need new leadership after the World Cup while he needs to spend more time with family. With typically laconic wit, he said he has also made the decision public to stop reporters asking him about it "every five minutes."

"After being involved in the All Blacks for 16 years, I do feel it's right for the team for me to stand down," Hansen said. "As only people who have done the job will understand, there are not only heavy demands on yourself but also on your family. My family has given me unreserved love and support over the last 16 years and I feel it's now time to make them the sole focus."

Hansen said in making his intentions clear almost 10 months out from the World Cup, he hoped to give New Zealand Rugby the longest-possible time to find his successor.

"This is a critical process which shouldn't be rushed and shouldn't be made in the turbulent period that tends to follow a Rugby World Cup campaign," Hansen said.

His own plans are unclear but he gave no sign he expects to take up a Director of Rugby role, unprecedented in New Zealand rugby, in which he would look over the shoulder of his successor.

"I haven't thought about what I will do after the World Cup," he said. "It is such a great privilege to coach the All Blacks and I am focused on nothing more than the next 12 months as we have an incredible opportunity to do something that no other team has ever done before."

Hansen has also given no indication he intends to ordain a successor, which would allow an orderly transfer of power such as when he took over after the 2011 World Cup from previous head coach Graham Henry. Under that system, Hansen's long-time assistant Ian Foster would become head coach in a natural succession.

Hansen did defend Foster on Friday against media assertions he lacks the experience or record to become All Blacks head coach. New Zealand media have highlighted the fact Foster was head coach of the Chiefs in Super Rugby for almost eight years without winning the title.

But Hansen pointed out that was during the period from 2004 in which the Crusaders won most of their seven Super Rugby titles, something Foster could have prevented.

He also pointed out that one of the leading candidates for his job, New Zealand-born Ireland coach Joe Schmidt, was fired after failing to lead the Auckland-based Blues to the Super Rugby title.

Schmidt will quit the Ireland role after the World Cup and is seen as a top contender for Hansen's job. He had previously seemed to rule out a bid for the role but said this week that "you never say never."

Other contenders are New Zealand-born Wales coach Warren Gatland who coached the British and Irish Lions to a drawn series in New Zealand last year, Scotland coach Vern Cotter and Super Rugby coaches Dave Rennie — now in Glasgow — and Crusaders coach Scott Robertson.

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