The Rugby World Cup semi-final pitting New Zealand against South Africa on Saturday will be the supreme battle of wits between their coaches Steve Hansen and Heyneke Meyer, who say they are the best of friends off the field.
STEVE HANSEN – New Zealand
Hansen has been the All Blacks coach since December 2011 and has guided them to 52 wins, two draws and three defeats which is why they are the World Cup favourites.
Hansen is not afraid to call All Blacks performances “ugly” or to chastise his players in public. But the 56-year-old is a brilliant tactician who has been the world coach of the year for the past three years.
Hansen played in Canterbury for 15 years, before becoming a manager in the provincial team and for the Crusaders. That brought him to the attention of Wales, a slumbering rugby powerhouse where he took over in 2002.
The national team played well but kept losing and in 2003 lost every Six Nations match for the first time in their history. Hansen redeemed himself by taking Wales to the World Cup quarter-final that year. But he left in 2004 to become an assistant to his mentor Graham Henry, the All Blacks head coach, who he had followed in the Wales job.
Henry and Hansen suffered heavy criticism after New Zealand lost to France in the 2007 World Cup quarter-finals, but their contracts were renewed. Their mission was to win the World Cup on home soil in 2011. And despite crucial injury absences New Zealand beat France 8-7 in the final.
Hansen got promotion after Henry stood down. New Zealand won the Bledisloe Cup against Australia for a 10th straight year in 2012 and went undefeated in 13 games in 2013. A defeat to Australia this year was a bit of a jolt, but Hansen goes into the South Africa clash having seen his side demolish France 62-13 in the World Cup quarter-final.
HEYNEKE MEYER – South Africa
The 48-year-old Meyer took on the Springboks role in January 2012, just a few weeks after Hansen was named All Blacks boss. His record since stands at 31 wins, two draws and 13 defeats — including six by New Zealand. He has also had to make two apologies to the nation.
Like Hansen, Meyer never played for his country, having studied sports psychology at the University of Pretoria, became its player coach and then rose through the South African sports ranks. He coached South West District Eagles when just 30, won three straight Currie Cup titles with the Blue Bulls (2002-2004) and took the Bulls to the Super 14 southern hemisphere club title in 2007 — one of the peaks in an up-and-down relationship with the Pretoria side.
Meyer led the Springboks to the 2013 Rugby Championship decider but lost to the All Blacks 38-27. In 2014, they beat the All Blacks for the first time since 2011 but it was to lead to a grim 2015 (so far) which he called “the toughest year of my career”.
South Africa lost all their Rugby Championship matches this year — including to Argentina for the first time. Before coming to the World Cup, Meyer was accused of being racist because of the low number of black players in the squad. Meyer apologised to the nation after the Argentina loss and had to do it again when the Springboks lost 34-32 to Japan in their first group match. Why does he remain a coach? “I’m as crazy as hell.”