An ex-All Black has leapt to Ian Foster’s defence after the New Zealand boss fell under heavy criticism in the opening stages of his tenure at the helm of the national side.
Foster has been an unpopular appointment as the successor to Steve Hansen, who left his post as All Blacks boss last year as one of the most successful international coaches of all-time.
Much of the New Zealand public was dismayed that Foster, an assistant to Hansen between 2012 and 2019, was handed the job ahead of fellow frontrunner Scott Robertson, who has guided the Crusaders to four consecutive Super Rugby titles.
As such, the response from his opening game in charge of the All Blacks, a 16-all draw against Dave Rennie’s Wallabies in Wellington a fortnight ago, was heavily scrutinised.
Speaking to the New Zealand Herald, Mealamu, who played 132 tests for the All Blacks and was coached by Foster in his final four years in the national set-up, described the criticism that came following the first Bledisloe Cup stalemate as premature.
Labelling the Australian performance as “one of the best test matches I’ve seen them play in a long time”, Mealamu pointed to a vastly improved Wallabies outfit as many valid reasons behind the draw, such as the disruptions caused by Covid and it being the first test as head coach for Foster and captain for Sam Cane.
The following week, the All Blacks mustered a much more convincing 27-7 victory in Auckland a week later, whereby breakout youngster Caleb Clarke stole the show with a barnstorming display on the left wing.
Mealamu told the Herald that the swift turnaround wasn’t surprising given how poorly the All Blacks normally start their international campaigns.
“It’s usually the second test that the guys get the chance to get a little bit quicker on their feet,” the two-time World Cup-winner said.
“They’re always a side that adapts really quickly, and we’ve seen how well they can lift their performance from one week to the next.”
Some of that turnaround can be attributed to the vast rugby knowledge and personable personality of Foster, two attributes that Mealamu believes makes the former Chiefs boss a “great coach”.
“I was lucky enough to play under him as a player and his understanding of the game… man, you’re privileged as a player to be able to learn under his coaching because he’s someone who knows the details well, and it pairs that up with being someone who’s very personable,” Mealamu told the Herald.
“Those are two qualities that make him a great coach as well as someone everyone respects because of the type of man he is as well.”
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