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All Blacks selections set to change with Joe Schmidt onboard

By Alex McLeod
(Photo By Brendan Moran/Sportsfile via Getty Images)

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Don’t be surprised to see the All Blacks change the way in which they select players after having recruited former Ireland boss Joe Schmidt as an independent selector.

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After various media reports linked him to the job earlier this week, New Zealand Rugby confirmed they have hired Schmidt to replace outgoing All Blacks selector Grant Fox on Tuesday.

The announcement caused a stir within Kiwi rugby circles given Schmidt’s reputation as one of the best coaches in rugby, as evidenced by his track record in Europe since 2007.

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A serial title-winner with French club Clermont and Irish side Leinster, it was Schmidt’s performances with Ireland that really earned him international recognition.

The 56-year-old guided the men from the Emerald Isle to three Six Nations titles, a Grand Slam, their first two victories over the All Blacks after 111 years of unsuccessful attempts, and number one spot on the World Rugby rankings in 2019.

Adding that vast experience into the All Blacks’ coaching ranks, especially on the back of their underwhelming 2021 season, has understandably injected a sense of optimism among New Zealand’s faithful heading into next year.

That feeling has extended to head coach Ian Foster, who is hopeful Schmidt’s coaching credentials will translate well into his new role as All Blacks selector.

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“It’s going to be very different, but it’s equally as exciting,” Foster told reporters on Tuesday of Schmidt’s transition from an international head coach to a selector.

“I’m of the great belief that that sort of performance and coaching is probably 80 percent selection, so it’s a vital component, and so it’s something that you take pretty seriously.”

Given that a major reason behind Schmidt’s recruitment was to provide the All Blacks with a new pair of analytical eyes, as well as Foster’s high regard for the role of a selector, fresh input and observations are expected over the coming months.

Schmidt’s alternative ideas to that of the incumbent All Blacks coaching group, which was ultimately the driving force behind New Zealand’s maiden two losses to Ireland in 2016 and 2018, could therefore spell change in how Foster’s squad is picked leading up to the 2023 World Cup.

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While it remains to be seen what the exact implications of any revamped selection mindset might entail, Foster is relishing how that could benefit his All Blacks side that lost to Ireland for a third time in five years last month, a defeat that was accompanied by others losses to France and the Springboks.

“We love the conversations that go around and the debates, and I’m sure they’ll continue,” he said.

“They’ll probably sound a little bit different, and they’ll come from a different mouth, but I’m sure that the desire to better the team is still going to be a paramount and centre of the conversation, so that’s all that really matters.”

It’s for that reason that Foster says he is “privileged” that Schmidt has taken on this new role with the All Blacks after conceding that he looked for external help in a bid to drive the All Blacks to a more fruitful year in 2022.

“You learn with the international game that you don’t know everything, and I’ve forever tried to ask for people or look for people that will help us grow,” Foster said.

“We need to grow and need to get better, and at times, you’ve got to expose yourself to getting really challenged.

“I knew Joe when he was in New Zealand and his coaching career started then and he did so well here, but the fact that he’s got a different perspective on the game’s vital for us.

“We’ve been pretty privileged that he’s accepted the role, we’re excited there and really just can’t wait to roll our sleeves up and just look at the game and see where we’re at.

“We obviously think we do a lot of things pretty well, but we’re fully aware that we’ve got some areas where we’ve really got to tweak and grow, so hopefully he can be a big help in that space, and I’m sure he will.”

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