Best sports book of year

Steve Hansen guided the All Blacks to an otherworldly record of 93 wins from 107 tests. Photo:...
Steve Hansen guided the All Blacks to an otherworldly record of 93 wins from 107 tests. Photo: Peter McIntosh
Gregor Paul


I love a good sports book (surprise). The problem is there really haven’t been many come out of New Zealand.

My line is always that there are only three great New Zealand sports books: Warwick Roger’s Old Heroes, Alex Veysey’s Colin Meads: All Black, and anything by Brian Turner.

Then there are a handful of reasonable yarns - Joseph Romanos has done a couple of good-uns, Ron Palenski has told every rugby story imaginable, and Lynn McConnell’s Conquerors of Time was decent.

The rest? Well, let’s just say I am not convinced every single New Zealand cricketer from the average 1990s needed to do an autobiography.

So, I was fairly doubtful a good time was in store when I picked up this weighty tome on the most recent All Blacks coach.
Steve Hansen is an objectively great coach - perhaps the best in All Black history - but is a book on him really necessary?

Don’t we know all there is to know?

Happily, the Hansen story is in good hands, those of thoughtful The New Zealand Herald columnist Gregor Paul, and this is as good a rugby book as we have seen in decades.

While we know how the on-field action ends - Hansen guided the All Blacks to an otherworldly record of 93 wins from 107 tests, but could not bow out on top at the 2019 World Cup - Paul deftly pieces together the key moments of the Hansen era.

He also provides real insight into how Hansen transformed from the gruff, relatively unlikeable figure who terrified everybody into an almost beloved father of the nation.

The best bits of the book highlight how the former cop connected with the young men in his care. Of particular interest is the story of how Hansen looked after Aaron Smith when the Highlanders halfback found himself in an uncomfortable public spotlight.

There is plenty of rugby action in here, and analysis of what made the Hansen All Blacks so good, but Paul never lets the book get bogged down in regurgitation of blow-by-blow match reports.

Scottish-born Paul insists on referring to rugby as ‘‘test football” but that is a minor irritant in what will easily be the New Zealand sports book of the year.

Hayden Meikle is the ODT sports editor

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