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'A wounded All Blacks team': Ian Foster lifts the lid on coaching changes

By Sam Smith
Ian Foster. (Photo by Hagen Hopkins/Getty Images)

All Blacks head coach Ian Foster has confirmed he has the support of the national playing squad after two of his assistant coaches were axed on Sunday.

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In the wake of New Zealand’s historic series loss to Ireland, it was announced over the weekend that All Blacks assistant coaches John Plumtree and Brad Mooar had been cut from the national set-up.

Plumtree’s role as forwards coach has since been taken over by former Crusaders and Fiji assistant Jason Ryan, while Foster will take charge of the team’s attacking duties in the absence of Mooar.

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Confirmation of those changes came just days after Foster strongly hinted that adjustments would be made to his backroom staff after he was retained as All Blacks boss, despite intense public pressure for him to be removed from his post.

Speaking on The Breakdown on Sunday, Foster revealed that the decision to sack Plumtree and Mooar came after deliberation with senior figures within the All Blacks playing group.

Foster said those conversations helped identify where the All Blacks must improve, resulting in a change of personnel within his backroom staff as preparations begin for New Zealand’s two-test tour of South Africa.

“The changes we’ve made are ones that I think that the team needs, and so this is about what is the best thing for this All Blacks team to go forward and play better,” Foster told The Breakdown.

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“I basically had a process that I said to our leaders and senior players, ‘You guys go away and have a think about where we’re at and the things that we have to move and give me any messages that you feel that I need to hear’.

“They did that. They all did a similar process with New Zealand Rugby, as is normal after a series.

“Out of that, I think we’ve got a clear mandate that has a strong belief in the direction we’re going, but there’s a feel that we actually need to get a new voice in there and make some changes to get the games that we want to get.

“Part of their feedback was strong about their own leadership and things that they need to do better.

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“It wasn’t just about management, but there was a clear message about a couple of things, and so therein lies the rationale for the decisions that we’ve made.”

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While player discussions have led to dismissal of Plumtree and Mooar, Foster remains at the helm of the All Blacks after he received the backing of his playing contingent.

That support was accompanied by recommendations from his players, which Foster has vowed to take on board.

“There’s been a lot of pressure on me for a long time, so in many ways, this is not new to the group,” he said.

“Part of my job is always go back and get an honest appraisal out of them about how I’m going and the belief factor, so I’ve had it loud and clear from them, but I also know with that comes massive responsibility.

“I believe I’ve got the group, now I need to deliver the plan. Part of the changes that we’ve made are about making sure that I’m not taking for granted their belief and the direction that I’m heading, but I’m also listening to them and making the changes that we all feel we need for this team.”

The addition of Ryan as forwards coach is indicative of where the All Blacks feel they need to be better, especially when they play the first of their two tests against the Springboks next weekend.

Foster told media on Friday that he sees South Africa’s lineout and maul as a particular area of strength, before adding on Sunday that Ryan’s focus within the All Blacks camp will be to address those facets of New Zealand’s game.

“We need to get Jason in here and actually start working with him to see where that role develops, but primarily and early on, he’s going to have a clear focus around the lineout, our driving play and defence in that particular area.”

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Ryan’s elevation into the All Blacks coaching group has been widely perceived as an encouraging step towards improvement, and Foster remains optimistic about his side’s trajectory despite their form slump.

However, while he continues to have faith in his regime, Foster acknowledged that there remains plenty of work to be done in order for the All Blacks to return to their best.

“There’s been a huge amount of noise and, let’s face it, that’s largely our doing,” he told The Breakdown.

“We’ve got a big home series Ireland and, like I said, we want to put our hand up and say, ‘We didn’t get what we wanted out of it’.

“It was a series of drama, there was cards and all sorts of stuff and a lot of debates, but ultimately, we were beaten by a better team and we want to be better than that.

“We’re going to South Africa, two tests over there, it’s a tour. Some players in this group haven’t been to South Africa with the All Blacks, let alone Super Rugby, so we’ve got to really get focused on the games that we want, but we’ve still got a strong belief in the direction that we’re going.

“It’s not the first time we’ve been slow starters in July. I hate saying that, but it is reality, and we’ve got to speed up the games we want.

“We’re a wounded All Black team and we’ve got a job to do over there and we actually want to play a game that New Zealanders are proud of.”

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