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Hansen looks to World Cup final before future

Updated: October 19, 2011, 20:55


AUCKLAND, New Zealand(AP) All Blacks assistant coach Steve Hansen says he hasn't decided whether he will apply for the job as head coach when Graham Henry retires after Sunday's Rugby World Cup final.

Hansen has been widely tipped to take over from Henry if the All Blacks beat France on Sunday, giving some continuity to a three-man coaching panel, in place for seven years and from which both Henry and co-coach Wayne Smith are retiring.

Wales coach Warren Gatland and Australia coach Robbie Deans, both New Zealanders, have been linked to the role but both have recently signed contract extensions with their adoptive teams.

Hansen told a news conference Thursday he was entirely focused on the World Cup final and his future is "not even something I'm thinking about at the moment.''

"Ask me on Monday morning,'' he said, "... if I'm sober.''

Hansen said the focus of the All Blacks coaches had been so thoroughly on winning the tournament that issues such as Henry and Smith's resignations and the impending retirements of several senior players had not been discussed. The coaches were particularly determined to make the best of their second chance at a World Cup victory, recognizing they were lucky to have been reappointed after New Zealand's quarterfinal defeat by France and the 2007 tournament.

"Four years ago we got knocked out in the quarterfinals of a World Cup and three coaches made the decision to try to (reapply for) the job and we did that,'' he said. "We were lucky enough to be reappointed and last weekend we earned the right to turn up on Sunday at 9 o'clock to try and win the thing.

"I don't really care what happens after Sunday night. All I'm focusing on is trying to get a team ready to turn up to win. I'll worry about things like that (his coaching future) afterwards.''

Hansen said the focus of the entire All Blacks' team on Sunday's final had been all-consuming, preventing any consideration of peripheral issues, but he was also satisfied the players were relaxed and in control of their preparation.

Although New Zealanders are overwhelmingly confident the All Blacks will win the final, ending their 24-year wait for a second world title, the coaches recognized there was still a difficult job to do.

"It's just a total focus on trying to get a team ready to play really, really well because we know we're going to have to because the French are going to turn up and play well to try to win this thing,'' he said.

"Not many times in your life do you get the opportunity for something special to happen and you're not only doing it for yourself, you're doing it for all the people who have made sacrifices and for our country. So you've just got to make sure you get it right.''

The French have twice beaten New Zealand in World Cup knockout rounds, in the semifinals in 1999 with a stunning comeback win and in the 2007 quarterfinals, which might have ended Hansen's All Blacks coaching career. Hansen said the All Blacks were well aware of that history but were not intimidated.

"I didn't say I feared anything (about France), I just said they'll turn up good,'' he said. "They've done exactly what we've done. They've earned the right to arrive at Eden Park and play on Sunday and it's a two-horse race.

"The same feelings that we have, they'll have and it's a great motivator.''

Hansen believes the All Blacks are ready for the final. Their steady development throughout the tournament and their clinical semifinal win over archrival Australia had left them confident of their ability to beat a misfiring French team, though there was no complacency within the New Zealand team.

"There's just a huge excitement about this whole tournament from day one,'' he said. "I don't think I've seen an All Blacks team as anxious as we were going into the Tonga game (New Zealand's first pool match) because finally (the World Cup) had arrived.

"And as the tournament's built I think we've built our performance and there's just a genuine desire to get the job done and a hungriness for that to happen.''

The coaches had learned the lessons of 2007, Hansen said, and had been able to apply them to this tournament.

"I think coaches are like everyday people, you learn from your mistakes and we're not immune from them,'' he said. "If you're smart enough to learn from them then you grow and I think as a group we've grown, we learned a lot of things about the tournament last time.

"It's probably no coincidence that the New Zealand Rugby Union, for the first time, has allowed the same coaching group to have a repeat shot at it ... because last time was our burden to carry.''

Hansen said there was no guarantee that a World Cup victory would lead to recognition of the current All Blacks team as one of New Zealand's great sides.

"No, I don't think victory will do that but I think greatness is for other people to label a team,'' he said. "I'm part of the team so I'm not going to sit here and say they're a great team. I know that we're a good side and we play good rugby. Other people will decide whether it's a great team or not.''

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