Steve Hansen won his final battle against Warren Gatland, and then warmed the hearts of Chiefs fans by asking a burning question.
All Blacks coach Hansen had endured a torrid week after England crushed his side’s hopes of a title three-peat by beating it in the World Cup semifinal last weekend, but was clearly proud of the 40-17 win over Wales in the bronze final at Tokyo Stadium on Friday night.
Hansen won’t coach against Gatland again, unless he makes an unexpected return to the international coaching circuit.
Asked about Gatland’s competitive streak and his view on him coming back to New Zealand to take charge of the Chiefs next season after 12 years as Wales head coach, Hansen noted who had the better percentages.
“I think we have played 10 times, and it might be eight wins (to the All Blacks), one loss and one draw,” Hansen said.
“So it has been competitive, yeah.
“You know he is coaching a team in Wales that I once coached. You take a lot of notice of what’s happening, and he’s done a wonderful job coaching them.”
Prior to the bronze final Hansen had last coached against Gatland in the third test against British and Irish Lions in Auckland in 2017, a game that ended in a 15-all draw and resulted in the series being shared.
Gatland had ratcheted up the tension after the second test in Wellington by saying the All Blacks had taken cheap shots at Lions halfback Conor Murray.
The comment added heat to the build-up to the third test at Eden Park, which ended in controversy when Romain Poite refused to award the All Blacks a late penalty.
Prior to the start of the bronze-medal match in Tokyo, Hansen and Gatland, along with Wales manager Alan Phillips, spent about five minutes chatting on the sidelines.
It appeared, from the stands, to be an amiable conversation but when Hansen was asked about Gatland’s return to coach the Chiefs he questioned what the Super Rugby club was going to do when Gatland coached the British and Irish Lions in South Africa in 2021.
The Chiefs have struck a deal that allows Gatland to join the Lions before returning for the 2022-23 seasons.
Who will be in charge of the team in Gatland’s absence hasn’t been revealed – or perhaps no decision had been made.
Assistant coach Tabai Matson has confirmed he will return but the club’s management have given no indication whether he, or anyone else, will work as an interim coach while Gatland is with the Lions.
“Having him back in New Zealand – not sure how that is going to work to be honest,” Hansen said.
“Because he is going to go and do the Lions after that.