5 Feb 2019

Scott Robertson looking good for All Blacks job - Bidwell

10:17 am on 5 February 2019

Smart guy, Scott Robertson.

The Crusaders master mind, Scott 'Razor' Robertson.

Crusaders coach Scott Robertson. Photo: PHOTOSPORT

History will say the Crusaders beat the Hurricanes 34-19, in Saturday's Super Rugby preseason clash at the Levin Domain.

The big winner, though, was arguably the Crusaders' coach.

Robertson has yet to fully declare his hand for next year and beyond. After winning two titles in as many seasons with the Crusaders, Robertson is off-contract.

He's made positive noises about having a dart at the soon-to-be-vacant All Blacks' job.

Then again, he's been equally enthusiastic about a variety of things, including staying put at the Crusaders or trying his luck at a club in France.

Again, he's a smart guy this one.

As you watched the way he approached fans in Levin, the way he took time for a chat and a photo, you couldn't help but wonder if Robertson is plotting his path towards the All Blacks' head coaching job.

With the cap pulled down and the sunglasses on, well-known folk often act as if they can't see you. Not Robertson. He sought people out, made a fuss of them. Just as a politician might when running for higher office.

The race to replace Steve Hansen certainly needs credible candidates such as Robertson.

New Zealand's not short of good coaches but you suspect few see the upcoming appointment process as an open one. Hansen's assistant Ian Foster has long been touted as the likely successor and well-credentialled alternatives such as Joe Schmidt and Warren Gatland have said they won't be applying.

Super Rugby title-winners such as Dave Rennie and Chris Boyd aren't thought to have many backers within New Zealand Rugby, whittling the field down further.

Vern Cotter, who has enjoyed success with Scotland and at club level in France, is another potential candidate but lacks an intimate knowledge of this generation of players. Robbie Deans too.

Former Hurricanes coach Chris Boyd, former Scotland coach Vern Cotter and former Chiefs coach Dave Rennie

Former Hurricanes coach Chris Boyd, former Scotland coach Vern Cotter and former Chiefs coach Dave Rennie Photo: Photosport

If there are to be challengers to Foster, then Robertson or Japan coach Jamie Joseph would be strong ones.

Beyond a Super title at the Highlanders, and a record of producing abrasive teams, Joseph isn't a middle-aged white man and at some point rugby coaching staffs need to become more reflective of the players they're working with.

In the meantime Robertson continues to play a smart game.

He was pictured in conversation with the Hurricanes' All Blacks halfback TJ Perenara after the Levin game and before that was involved in the recent Black Clash charity cricket match at Hagley Oval, mixing with other high-profile All Blacks such as Beauden and Jordie Barrett.

Every bit of relationship-building helps when you're considering your employment options.

All Blacks assistant coach Ian Foster and Japan head coach Jamie Joseph.

All Blacks assistant coach Ian Foster and Japan head coach Jamie Joseph. Photo: Photosport

Some of New Zealand's Rugby World Cup competition kicked off their Six Nations campaigns on the weekend, with slightly comical results.

Ireland, who seemingly all and sundry have said are now international rugby's finest side, were beaten 32-20 in Dublin by England.

Now it's England that All Blacks enthusiasts have to worry about, apparently.

All of which must amuse and hearten Hansen, as he plots a path towards the tournament in Japan later this year.

The All Blacks aren't without their issues, in terms of personnel and playing style, and Hansen will either be able to sort those out or he won't.

On the evidence of 2018, the team aren't world-beaters, but the coach won't mind that. Nor the rush to anoint Ireland - now England and goodness knows who else between now and September - as world cup favourites.

First, Hansen needs something to needle the All Blacks with and being cast as a team in decline by various experts fits that bill nicely. Second, favouritism brings with it expectation.

The All Blacks are accustomed to that burden, but the other title contenders are not.

It will be fascinating to see how they cope with it.

*Hamish Bidwell is a contributor to Radio New Zealand. He has previously worked at The Northern Advocate, Gisborne Herald, Hawke's Bay Today, The Press, The Dominion Post and Stuff.