Everyone in the rugby world knows who Foster's All Blacks are
If the All Blacks succeed at the next Rugby World Cup, it will be in spite of their coaches.
There are too many talented individual players in that side to dismiss their chances entirely, but let’s not remain under any illusions about the backroom boys.
Hands up anyone who’s impressed or inspired by head coach Ian Foster and his staff. Hands up anyone who knows what the All Blacks were trying to achieve in Dublin on Sunday morning (NZ time).
Hands up anyone who knows what all the team meetings, training sessions, earpieces, laptops, halftime sermons, water-break chats and endless pomposity is actually achieving.
The All Blacks had absolutely no idea how to combat Ireland at the Aviva Stadium and were flattered by the final scoreline of 29-20.
That match was a drubbing. The All Blacks were clueless and toothless and making it up as they went along, which is a damning indictment upon the men charged with preparing them for matches.
I was once part of the travelling media pack. One of those poor souls whose job it is to lob patsy questions at people such as Ian Foster, to giggle at their humourless remarks and to treat every word with a biblical import.
It doesn’t pay to criticise the All Blacks coaches. Life isn’t enhanced by asking hard questions or providing honest feedback.
You bow and you scrape and you hope your fealty is rewarded somewhere down the line.
But out here in the real world people are starting to enjoy this All Black team’s struggles. Dyed in the wool fans are taking pleasure from the ineptitude of the players and permanent look of befuddlement on the face of Foster.
They’re utterly bemused about why New Zealand Rugby sought to extend Foster’s contract and adjusting their World Cup expectations accordingly.
People would be less alarmed by events in Dublin if they hadn’t seen it all before. They would be more forgiving if they sensed a semblance of method in what the All Blacks were trying to do on the park.
But, not for the first time on Foster’s watch, the gameplan was inadequate and indistinguishable.
We’ve seen Ireland do this to New Zealand before. We’ve seen England and the British & Irish Lions do it. Hell, even Wales and Italy did in the two weeks previous, without the ability to see the job through.
If you tackle the All Blacks, they will run out of ideas. Not only that, they will lose heart.
New Zealand played like a kids team in Dublin. Beaten up in the forwards, they just shovelled the ball on to the next bloke, in the hope he’d bust a tackle or throw in a miracle chip-and-chase.
When that didn’t work, they resorted to kicking. Oh my God, the kicking. Have you ever seen more kick and hope in your life?
When in doubt, kick. Not to space, not for a teammate to run onto or contest. No, just get rid of it.
The Crusaders kick. They kick quite well, too. In fact a good deal of their Super Rugby success has been built upon kicking the ball to opponents.
They kick deep, chase well and then prey on errors. If you infringe, they’ll kick the goal. If you turn it over, they’ll kill you on the counter.
The Crusaders players in this All Blacks side look utterly confused. Richie Mo’unga and David Havili, whose accuracy and assurance are often hallmarks of their franchise play, are borderline liabilities at the moment.
Neither are bad players. Far from it. But, as I wrote in relation to Damian McKenzie last week, how many of the All Blacks’ backs are playing to anything like their potential?
A couple of New Zealanders – in James Lowe and Jamison Gibson-Park – did have the confidence and certainty to put their full array of skills on display in Dublin, but unfortunately they were on the opposition.
Beyond an obvious gameplan, where was the All Blacks’ desire? Where was their will to match Ireland’s intensity?
Give the All Blacks a game on touch, which was all their recent encounter with the United States amounted to, and they’ll run rings around opponents. But challenge this team physically and it will retreat.
Every man and his dog could’ve told you how Ireland would play and yet, somehow, the All Blacks looked utterly ill-prepared for what they encountered.
Never mind learning lessons, as Foster has talked about since this defeat, the All Blacks have regularly been taught similar lessons since 2016 and never taken anything from them.
This is a New Zealand team full of proud and smart and talented men. They will be embarrassed by this performance and there’s every chance they’ll respond emphatically against France.
But that won’t change what we saw in Dublin. It won’t obscure what South Africa and Australia and Argentina have done to this team in the last couple of years either.
The All Blacks are not the best-prepared or most robust team out there and everyone in the rugby world knows it.
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