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Endless drum beating against Ian Foster is unfair and tiresome

By Michael Pulman

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It was always inevitable that the drum beating would restart the second Scott Robertson re-signed with NZR.

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Ian Foster, the current All Blacks coach don’t forget, would do well to keep his attention firmly away from some of the headlines this week, and probably for several weeks to come.

They haven’t been pretty, terribly surprising, or anything particularly new and original for that matter.

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A certain type of boring narrative has emerged in the past year – Foster isn’t the man for the top job at the mighty All Blacks it’s claimed.

Two losses weren’t the igniter but actually the gas can over a fire already burning. Critics always felt frustrated in the appointment of Foster because it was unsurprisingly the safer bet taken by the traditionally conservative NZR rather than the proactive one they wanted.

To them, Foster represented the same old thing, a Steve Hansen 2.0 if you will.

If you were to gauge the majority of feedback from the rugby public, those paying men and women who keep the whole thing afloat, they’d present a similar sense of acceptance that Foster wasn’t the biggest drawcard of the bunch, but probably the most logical one because he’d been a large part of the existing system.

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Much of the narrative surrounding Scott Robertson is that he can apparently do no wrong. His record coaching the Crusaders is immensely impressive, easily the best in modern history.

He’s also a fairly popular guy to work with for a few of the journalists, never being shy of an opinion or two is always welcome.

According to several sources I’ve spoken to, some on the record and others off, Foster always wanted to run a very tight ship when he became the All Blacks coach. That suited NZR to a tee and carried on a tradition within the team itself, a tradition many argue has become stale.

I’m also told that Foster wanted to make the All Blacks a more welcoming internal environment for new players. That as much has been evident in some of the selections we’ve seen thus far.

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Take Ethan de Groot as a good example of that. Here’s a propping prospect nowhere near ready for international rugby but was given a start to debut his test career.

Sadly, none of those very brave selections and the stories that would be far more invigorating for the fans to read seem to matter, especially to those harshest of critics who’ve not missed an opportunity to consistently put the boot in.

Did they also admit that Foster decided very early on in the piece that he wouldn’t be playing favourites in the media nearly to the same degree that his predecessor did?

Maybe that has something to do with the hostility. But I digress. Let’s talk about what really matters here.

Modern sport, particularly at the level of the All Blacks, hangs heavily on results. Where talk of this current stable of men in the black jersey continues always seems to find its way back to the losses in 2020.

Two losses, including the shocker against the Pumas, and a draw on home soil will likely continue to be the black mark against Foster’s name that his critics use to justify someone else as the rightful, deserved coach.

That’s a fair criticism in part, particularly if we are talking about the loss to Argentina when the mid-week preparation clearly wasn’t up to snuff.

Last weekend’s feeble physical showing against an inspired Fiji also did its part added to the noise, to the point now where it should now be inarguable.

Foster, these critics argue, needs to be shown the door immediately and Robertson ushered in as quickly as possible. While they’re at it, they’d also argue throwing Clayton McMillan into an assistant coach role, and heck, probably Jason Ryan as well.

This isn’t about Foster actually being the wrong man to coach the All Blacks. This is about the fact that he was never going to be accepted by many of the critics who used the 2019 World Cup loss to England as perfect fuel for across-the-board change.

It’s certainly been an impressive ride for Robertson in Crusader country, but it’s pure assumption that he’d do any better a job at the helm of the All Blacks.

Look at the strides Argentina made last season and in previous seasons before that, look the not so small splash Japan is continuing to make on the international scene, and while you’re at it, look at what Fiji managed to conjure up last weekend.

There is no logic to the argument that it will be a catastrophic failure and a further black mark against Foster’s name if the All Blacks don’t go through to the next World Cup in 2023 unbeaten.

There’s a lot of logic in expecting the exact opposite to occur.

The rest of the rugby world is catching up to the All Blacks in more ways than many realise. That’s why it came as such a shock to some of these same pundits that the All Blacks crashed out of the last World Cup in the fashion they did, that’s why you’ve seen some of the results since.

Former and current All Blacks players and coaches will continue plying their trade in Europe and Japan. Some of the current star All Blacks in this particular side could well be playing in the new professional Japanese league next year, we’re stupid if we don’t think they’re all taking a lot of the existing playbook with them.

Scott Robertson coaching the All Blacks doesn’t halt any of that momentum, all it does is make critics of the current regime feel better about their particular argument when the actual product under Foster is far from finished on the field.

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Endless drum beating against Ian Foster is unfair and tiresome

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