New Zealand rugby coach Steve Hansen walks on the field before the rugby union international match between England and New Zealand at Twickenham stadium in London. Image Credit: AP

Wellington: All Blacks coach Steve Hansen will step down at the conclusion of next year’s Rugby World Cup in Japan after deciding the job needed “fresh eyes” after he had spent 16 years with the side.

The 59-year-old Hansen has been involved with the team since 2004, first as an assistant to Graham Henry and then as head coach from 2012, and fashioned an unrivalled record in the professional era, having won 85 of his 96 games in charge.

Hansen told a packed news conference in Auckland, that was live streamed by all major media companies in the rugby-mad country, that he had decided to make the announcement now to avoid their World Cup build-up being disrupted by questions about his future.

“I’m finishing,” Hansen said. “I just think that after 16 years it is the right time to move on after the World Cup. It is the right thing for the team.

“Fresh eyes, fresh thinking and I think that will be great in the enhancement of the legacy of the team.” Hansen said he had not thought about his future beyond the next 12 months. Local media reported that he might take on a director of rugby role with New Zealand Rugby (NZR).

“What’s next? I don’t know. So don’t ask,” he said.

“I’m not focusing on what’s next. I’m just focusing on next year and retaining the Bledisloe Cup and winning the World Cup for a third time in a row.” NZR chief executive Steve Tew said they might consider retaining Hansen in another role, but that conversation would not take place until after the World Cup.

Hansen had signed a contract extension in 2016 to keep him in the role until March 2020.

— Reuters