Analysis: Robertson's challenging path to ABs coaching legacy

The road to becoming an All Blacks head coaching great will not be straightforward for Scott Robertson.

The dust has settled, the headlines made and, finally, Scott Robertson can call himself an All Blacks coach.

It's been a long journey; from assisting Rob Penney and then Tabai Matson at Canterbury for five years, to building his own resume with a Super Rugby dynasty at the Crusaders to yesterday's seemingly-inevitable NZR press conference.

Robertson said at that announcement he'd been "preparing and getting ready for this opportunity for a long time" after missing out on the gig in 2019 to Ian Foster but what lies ahead are even more challenges, one of which is the ever-present legacy around the black jersey - or in All Black No. 974's case, the black blazer.

Just how well Foster and the All Blacks do in France later this year remains up in the air but one thing that is certain for Robertson when he takes over is he won't have one advantage many of his predecessors had while they were in charge; the near-unbeatable aura that surrounded the team.

But while that aura was an advantage, some of those coaches also rose above and beyond the rest with what they did during their time at the helm and if Robertson wants to include himself among them, he'll need to do something similar.

So where better to look for inspiration than those before him?

Here's a look at five coaches Robertson can draw from to help forge his own impressive chapter in All Blacks history.

Sir Steve Hansen, 2012-2019

107 Tests, 93 wins, 10 losses, four draws, one World Cup

Steve Hansen.

Where better to begin than Sir Steve Hansen?

Hansen is our most successful coach in All Blacks history with more than 14 Tests to his name and he did it all while also becoming the side's longest-serving coach.

Not to mention during his reign he became the first coach to defend a World Cup and never let go of the Bledisloe Cup.

The accolades are impressive but trophies come and go and, admittedly, he did receive a literal world champion line-up boasting generational legends such as Richie McCaw and Dan Carter to start his campaign.

What was more impressive from Hansen's seven years in charge was the culture he built, the environment it thrived in and the impact it left on those who were part of it.

Everyone with half an interest in rugby heard about Hansen's "walk towards pressure" mentality while he was in charge but he also put a significant emphasis on "the legacy of the black jersey" and ensured anyone he brought in - player or staff - added to that.

Sure, Hansen didn't get the fairytale finish to his time with the All Blacks in Japan in 2019 but in an equally poetic way, he departed the team having done what he wanted of those around him and added something new to the legacy.

If Robertson could take one thing from Hansen's time in charge it should be this; he shouldn't be afraid to bring his own ideals to the team to better it.

He's done it everywhere else and it's been successful with two ITM Cup Premierships with Canterbury and six [potentially seven] Super Rugby titles with the Crusaders to back his flair.

There's no reason it won't work in 2024 and he should walk towards it knowing that.

Sir Graham Henry, 2004-2011

103 Tests, 88 wins, 15 losses, 0 draws, one World Cup

Sir Graham Henry waves at fans during the All Blacks 2011 RWC celebration parade in Auckland.

If Hansen was the one to carry forward the world-conquering status the All Blacks had gained, it was Sir Graham Henry that helped build its foundation in the first place from the rubble of two failed World Cup campaigns.

Henry was given the All Blacks after their semi-final loss to hosts Australia at the 2003 World Cup and immediately stamped his mark with two decisive wins over world champions England in his first two Tests in charge the following year.

Following a wobbly Tri-Nations campaign, Henry began to establish an All Blacks side unafraid to attack and they surged to No.1 in the world rankings with plenty of awards and trophies to match it.

But that all came crashing down in 2007 when Henry and the All Blacks suffered their shock Rugby World Cup quarter-final loss to hosts France - a finish that remains the team's worst result at a World Cup.

There was a huge wave of public backlash; rotation policies, out-of-position stars and crunchtime tactics were all challenged in the Cardiff fallout but Henry survived the ordeal and earned a shot at redemption when he beat Robbie Deans to retain the job.

It was the first time an All Blacks coach had been retained after a failed World Cup campaign and it proved to be the right one, with Henry going on to end the drought with a win on home soil in 2011, pipping France 8-7 in a nail-biting final.

If there's one thing Robertson could take from Henry's tenure it should be the resolve to rebound from failures and be stronger for it.

It's not something Robertson has had to do much of in his coaching career to date but he has shown in moments where his mighty Crusaders have been in doubt - take last week's gripping win over the Blues at Eden Park after a loss in Fiji as an example - he has the ability to quash it.

Only time will tell if he'll need to do it as an All Blacks coach from day one like Henry did or if that challenge will find him later.

Sir Brian Lochore, 1985-1987

18 Tests, 14 wins, three losses, one draw, one World Cup

Sir Brian Lochore during an All Blacks training in 1987.

The late, great Sir Brian Lochore faced his own challenges in a completely different era of rugby but his pride as an All Black - whether it was as a player or selector or coach or mentor - was second to none.

Lochore played 68 games for the All Blacks and it took very little time for his love of the black jersey to bare fruit with another coaching great, Fred Allen, handing him captaincy of the side in 1966 despite having just six Tests to his name.

In 18 Tests as skipper, Lochore lost just three times.

Lochore penned the phrase "better people make better All Blacks" and he personified that with everything he did, including his coaching.

The former All Blacks captain took over coaching the side in 1985 after joining management as a selector two years prior and during his short time in charge, guided the team to victory at the inaugural Rugby World Cup in 1987.

The Masterton-born great would hand the team back after that campaign but remained a significant contributor to the side for decades to come until his death in 2019.

Departing All Blacks mental skills coach Gilbert Enoka said of Lochore following his death that, "he was a living example of the fact that you don't need to have academic degrees to have knowledge and wisdom - he had these qualities in spades".

If Robertson, a 23-Test All Black, can take anything from Lochore's immense legacy it would be to channel that pride he had previously from wearing the black jersey and bringing it back when he takes over next year.

"As All Black #974, to be able to coach the All Blacks means a lot to me," Robertson said when he opened yesterday's press conference.

It should also mean a lot to those playing under him.

Sir Fred Allen, 1966-1968

14 Tests, 14 wins, 0 losses, 0 draws

Sir Fred Allen speaks during a training session.

The numbers speak for themselves.

Another All Blacks captain who later became coach, the late Allen never experienced defeat while in charge of the side and it came down to his hard approach.

Lochore said in a biography of Allen later in life that his coach wasn't nicknamed "The Needle" for a love of sewing.

"He could strip a player of any pretensions with a word and a withering look. He was ruthless but his heart beat for rugby and for his players."

That sharpness could be used on anyone at any time - including legends of the game.

Upon receiving his knighthood in 2010, he recalled an interaction with the late Sir Colin Meads during a team talk in the 1960s when the towering great was caught yawning.

Allen questioned whether he was boring Meads with his team talk - a moment he said he used to send a message to younger players in the squad.

"I wouldn’t stand for any nonsense," Allen said.

In fact, suspecting he wouldn't be reappointed by a grated NZRFU despite his success with the side after two years in charge, Allen opted to stand down as coach at the end of 1968 instead of jeopardising his coaching methods.

Robertson faces a similar contrast from the old boys' club at NZR today; his breakdancing, vibrant personality and often-colourful interviews are a large breakaway from the refined and near-monotone chat fans have grown accustomed to from PR-trained All Blacks coaches of recent times.

But like Allen he should push ahead with his personality at the helm, not what others want it to be.

Doing so in the past has won results - both for Allen and for him.

Scott Robertson, 2024-???

105 Super Games, 87 wins, six* Super Rugby Titles

Scott Robertson.

Yes, the last coach on this list is a bit controversial but it needs addressing.

Robertson will become the All Blacks coach next year after years of growing support from New Zealand rugby fans - backing gained by how the All Blacks-heavy Crusaders performed under him and the often-clinical way in which they usually won.

It's led to an incomparable amount of success at Super Rugby level with six titles in six seasons in charge.

There will be a tonne of expectation on Robertson when he steps up because of that despite Super Rugby and internationals being completely different.

Robertson has limited international experience (he coached the New Zealand under-20s for two years) and international writers are already firing off pieces about it being his downfall.

But this is Scott Robertson - the coach who won an ITM Cup in his first year with Canterbury, the coach who won an under-20s World Cup in his first year with the Baby Blacks, the coach who won a Super Rugby title in his first year with the Crusaders.

If there's any coach who can step up to a new level and deliver immediately it's Robertson.

And if he needs help doing so, he's got some great predecessors to draw inspiration from.


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