8 Feb 2019

Hansen's joke silly, but no big deal

4:28 pm on 8 February 2019

You are All Blacks coach 24 hours a day.

Steve Hansen.

All Blacks coach Steve Hansen came under fire from former Wallabies outside back Drew Mitchell for his comments about Michael Cheika. Photo: PHOTOSPORT

At the supermarket, a friend's barbecue or a rugby club fundraiser, you are the All Blacks coach.

The way you dress and talk and behave is judged on that basis. Your words have weight, and will be regurgitated by all those present, because you are the All Blacks coach.

All of which Steve Hansen knows. He's been head coach eight years and was assistant before that.

Hansen cuts quite a charming, charismatic figure these days but what separates him from your rank-and-file good bloke is the position he holds.

He is significant because of that, rather than his own qualities.

But, please, spare us the hand-wringing because Hansen creamed a half-volley through the covers this week.

Speaking at a fundraising event in Wellington on Monday night, Hansen had a juicy delivery served up by event MC Ian Fraser.

Told of a remark by Australia rugby great Mark Ella, that Mickey Mouse could coach the All Blacks, Hansen responded with : "they've got Mickey Mouse coaching Aussie.''

It was a tongue-in-cheek, throwaway line that no doubt generated great mirth. Was it, at least in a tiny way, potentially disrespectful to Wallabies coach Michael Cheika? Maybe.

But it was rather different from, say, a press conference setting and Hansen saying: "look, before I take questions I just want it on the record that I think Michael Cheika is a Mickey Mouse coach.''

Rugby enthusiasts are lucky to have Hansen. Not every coach is as open and engaging. Hansen will regularly interrupt preparations for a test match to speak at a function.

Not only that, he'll stick around and mingle and listen to those who reckon he can't coach for toffee and ought to have given it up years ago.

We partly have Fraser to thank for that. He was the man Hansen turned to for media training after succeeding Graham Henry as All Blacks head coach.

Hansen and the media had a rather adversarial relationship till then. Hansen distrusted the press, questioned their motives, couldn't work out why they didn't actively support the team and consequently gave them nothing.

Drew Mitchell celebrates a Bledisloe Cup try in 2010.

Former Wallaby Drew Mitchell wasn't happy with Hansen's comments about Cheika. Photo: PHOTOSPORT

After working with Fraser, the Hansen of today manages media relationships well and can be quite free with information.

That creates a two-way street where, by and large, any potential "Mickey Mouse" comments are treated as such. People understand Hansen's only having a laugh in an informal setting and there's no rush to condemn him.

Only this time there has been tut-tutting. There have been people who looked at Monday's quote and took it out of the context of an after dinner Q and A and tried to turn it into an international rugby incident.

It was nothing of the sort and might only serve to convince Hansen he's better off not appearing at functions and not behaving and talking in a natural, honest way.

When you're All Blacks coach, you need to be mindful of what you say and who you say it to. Hansen's well aware of that. Fraser too and there's a certain irony that the media adviser has helped generate some unhelpful headlines for the client.

But this really and truly wasn't a situation where the pair cast the position of All Blacks coach in a poor light or said anything that should've caused a stir.

As All Blacks coach Hansen is always on duty and he moderates his comments accordingly. Sadly some will still want to make a mountain out of a "mouse'' hill.

*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.