Hansen jockeying for NZ job
Wellington - All Blacks assistant coach Steve Hansen said on Thursday he wanted to take over as New Zealand's head coach if incumbent Graham Henry stands down after the Rugby World Cup.
Henry has yet to confirm his post-tournament plans but the 65-year-old is widely expected to retire at the end of the World Cup after almost eight years in the role.
Hansen, who along with Wayne Smith has served as Henry's assistant since his appointment in 2004, was reluctant to comment on his plans, saying he did not decide who would be the next All Blacks' coach.
Quizzed on what he wanted to do after the World Cup, Hansen said "coaching", then when pressed on which team he wanted to mentor, replied: "The All Blacks, obviously."
Henry, Hansen and Smith - dubbed "the three wise men" - were installed in the wake of New Zealand's failure in the 2003 World Cup.
There was a clamour for them to lose their jobs when New Zealand bombed out yet again at the 2007 edition, with critics accusing them of sending the team to the tournament underprepared.
However, the New Zealand Rugby Union (NZRU) decided to stick with Henry and his coaching team, leading to his main rival Robbie Deans signing up as head coach of the Wallabies, the first non-Australian to hold the job.
The trio will notch up 100 Tests in charge when New Zealand face Canada on Sunday, amassing a win rate of around 85 percent, one of the most formidable records in international sport.
But the New Zealand public will judge their success solely on whether they can deliver the Rugby World Cup on home soil, ending a 24-year drought and making amends for the 2007 failure.
If Henry's team claim the trophy, it would set the scene for the 65-year-old to leave on a high. Should the All Blacks lose, he is almost certain to be sacked.
Hansen, who coached Wales to the quarter-finals of the 2003 World Cup, is seen as the NZRU's preferred successor but is likely to face stiff competition if the top job becomes vacant.
Japan coach John Kirwan, who played on the wing when the All Blacks won their only World Cup in 1987, has publicly coveted Henry's position, describing it as "the best job in the world".
The Japan Rugby Football Union is deciding whether to offer Kirwan a new contract although the Brave Blossoms' winless campaign at this year's tournament may count against him.
Wales coach Warren Gatland, another ex-All Black, is also a potential candidate. He is committed to Wales until 2015 but his contract reportedly has an escape clause should the All Blacks come calling.
Crusaders mentor Todd Blackadder is a rising star in the coaching ranks after replacing Deans at the South Island outfit but the former New Zealand skipper may want to wait until he has won a Super Rugby title.
Other names touted as possibilities include outgoing Chiefs coach Ian Foster, Clermont's Vern Cotter, who claimed a Top 14 title with the French club last year, and Leinster's European Cup-winning coach Joe Schmidt.
Deans signed a two-year contract extension with the Wallabies last month, making him unlikely to stand against Hansen, while Smith will become assistant coach at the Chiefs next season.