'Lots of change' - Darren Shand's 20 years of managing the All Blacks

All Blacks manager Darren Shand.

For the past 20 years, Darren Shand has held the role of All Blacks manager - responsible for just about everything off the field - but that comes to an end after this Rugby World Cup. He spoke to Jordan Oppert as part of 1 News Sports' "Behind Black" series.

Darren who?

Darren Shand is the first to admit that on first glance he was the most unlikely of candidates for one of the country's top managerial sporting roles - at least in the public's eyes anyway. He wasn't a former All Black like his predecessors - in fact, he'd played little rugby at all, just a short stint in Hawke's Bay for a local under-13 team.

But he backed himself. He'd spent time in Queenstown working in adventure tourism, mostly outdoors - white water rafting, skiing and bungying - Shand loved taking a risk, absorbing pressure and keeping calm.

It also helped he'd had five years with the Crusaders through a "pretty successful period".

"I'd been part of those early days of the cross between amateur and professional and grown up with a lot of the players who were current All Blacks [at the time]," said Shand.

He'd also done a lot of research, which included talking to the interview panel to see what skills they were after.

So when the other candidates for the job were leaked to a newspaper, all of them former All Blacks as expected, Shand (labelled "Darren who") - knew he'd landed the role.

"I knew none of them had done any professional management.. so yeah, I was surprised I guess but just grateful for the opportunity."

On reflection, his non-rugby-playing background was advantageous.

"It wasn't my passion so I felt I could remove myself from a lot of the emotion, so yeah I certainly have a different perspective from a lot of people in rugby," he said.

The evolution of the All Blacks manager role

Shand said the simplest way to describe his role is this: the coach looks after everything on the field, and the manager everything off it. That includes operations, the business side of it (finance, commercials, communications and how they impact the team) and of course the overall leadership of the All Blacks - working with the coach, mental skills coach Gilbert Enoka (considered a fellow manager) and trainer Nic Gill.

"Together, we drive the overall management and work closely with the player leaders to set up the environment and culture and how we operate as a group."

Shand is the first to admit the business and commercial side of it hasn't always been easy.

"We're so much bigger than we were in 2004 and so there's tension... there's always tension between performance and business if you like and that's a juggling act," he said.

"We're now at the point of having billionaire owners and companies, individual owners in fact of sponsors who want things their way and sometimes we don't agree - so it's a challenging space."

"Suddenly we've got cameras everywhere, so there's been lots of change."

But Shand's a believer the two can co-exist and the strategist in him has relished providing solutions to those issues.

The highs and the lows

To end on a high note, Shand shared his low first.

"Yeah, 2007 was horrible," he said almost before the question was finished.

"The result was obviously bad, the two to three days of carnage afterwards was tough. Even that whole summer incidentally on the streets it was very tough, so yeah I don't have great memories," he said.

But what 07' provided was 'gold' - Shand genuinely believes the World Cup victories in 2011 and 2015 were solely on the back of what they learnt from that 'painful campaign'. Understandably, those back-to-back wins at 'Rugby's Olympics' were the ultimate high.

"There was a specialness about that group that guided 2015 - McCaw, Carter, Mealamu, Smith, Nonu - the entire group... they'd been there a while and were at the peak of their powers in '15.

"We were riding the wave, and all knew we'd been through it all, the good and the bad, so I look at that group and just go 'woah' - I had so much faith sitting there sideline - there was no way we were ever gonna lose any of those matches, it just felt so right," said Shand.

But above all, Shand's enjoyed the people and the journeys people have taken through the team. Given he's been in the role for 20 years, he's recently had the first player come through whose dad was in the team too (Ethan Blackadder, son of Todd).

"Seeing Richie [McCaw] basically first year out of school through to the finished product as the GOAT (Greatest of all time) in 2015, similarly with Dan [Carter] you know, that's what I love".

Darren Shand meets the Queen alongside All Blacks coach Sir Graham Henry, left, and skipper Tana Umaga in 2005.

"You get a real myriad [of players] over time and often the ones who cause the most difficulties... after rugby there's still that mutual respect and togetherness - and I love that. There's always that brotherhood that continues. It doesn't stop," said Shand.

"Is Gran here yet?" - meeting her majesty, the late Queen

In 20 years, Shand's been to his fair share of 'glitzy and famed events'. But one sticks out most - a meeting at Buckingham Palace in 2005.

Earlier that year the Lions toured New Zealand and a very young Prince William had come out to support them. On that trip, he had lunch with the All Blacks at the team hotel one day.

"The boys had lunch and kind of scattered, so I was left at the table with him, Ali Williams and Steve Hansen. We sat there for an hour chewing the fat," he said.

So in 2005, the Royal Family wanted to repay that favour. Shand recalls standing inside the palace with Tana Umaga and Sir Graham Henry all suited up waiting for the Queen to arrive.

"We were all really nervous but then we hear this noise down the corridor and see Prince William running down with his jacket half done and trying to do his tie up.

"He goes 'Hey Darren, Tana, Graham.. Is Gran here yet?' and we all just laughed and went 'wow'," he said.

"You pinch yourself where you get to and the people you meet but what you learn is that they're just people."

He said the Queen was an amazing lady, who was so knowledgeable about the game.

The key to the All Blacks' success

Shand said the team's 'real strong' connection to its past goes a long way in contributing to their success.

"We've turned it around from something that's been a challenge to something that we all embrace, we love and live and find out about our past to help us get better," he said.

"Right now, knowing I'm finishing... I know I want to leave it [the All Blacks] in a better place and every day that drives me to leave it that way. I started with nothing, but I want the next group to have everything."

He said that's how the players look at it too.


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