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Ian Foster reveals how new selector Joe Schmidt can help the All Blacks

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

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Less than 24 hours after it was first reported that former Ireland head coach Joe Schmidt will join the All Blacks as an independent selector, New Zealand Rugby made the news official on Tuesday.

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As such, the All Blacks now have their hands on one of the most highly-respected coaches in rugby, a prospect that should have Kiwi fans optimistic about New Zealand’s short-to-mid-term future in the test arena.

The recruitment of Schmidt, the man recognised for transforming Ireland into a genuine global rugby powerhouse, in place of outgoing selector Grant Fox could be exactly what the All Blacks need after they fell short of their lofty expectations in 2021.

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Despite locking away the Bledisloe Cup, Freedom Cup and Rugby Championship, the New Zealanders fell away towards the end of their campaign, which they closed out with back-to-back losses to Ireland and France.

Compounded by an earlier loss to the Springboks in their Rugby Championship finale, the All Blacks were condemned to their worst season record since they lost five matches in 2009.

Their inability to foot it with the growing powers from around the globe would have been a sticking point for head coach Ian Foster and his colleagues when the All Blacks began their end-of-year review upon their return to New Zealand late last month.

It’s for that reason that the addition of Schmidt, albeit solely in a selector’s role, could prove to be a valuable gain for the All Blacks given his experience abroad.

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The 56-year-old achieved plenty during his title-laden 12-year stay in Europe, firstly as an assistant coach at Clermont, and then as head coach of Leinster.

However, it was his time at the helm of Ireland where Schmidt’s credentials really rose to global prominence, as he steered the men from the Emerald Isle to three Six Nations titles, a Grand Slam, a world number one ranking and their maiden two victories over the All Blacks between 2013 and 2019.

While his offshore success makes him a highly-sought after coach, it’s that latter achievement that will be of significant benefit to the All Blacks as he can provide Foster and his associates with insight into how their own team is viewed and exploited by opposing sides.

After having conducted multiple conversations with Schmidt over a prolonged period of time, Foster was aware of that benefit his former rival could provide the All Blacks, which is exactly part of the reason why he has been brought on board.

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“It’s a clear asset,” Foster told media on Tuesday of Schmidt’s experience in defeating the All Blacks as Ireland boss in 2016 and 2018.

“I think that prepares Joe really, really well from a selection side because, like I said, we analyse our opposition players to the enth degree, so he’ll have a pretty clear idea of a lot of our players anyway.

“I think he’s also coached at a level recently against a lot of the other top teams that we have to play against as well, and that’s a clear advantage for us coming into this group.

“We’re saying goodbye to a very, very experienced selector with a vast depth and knowledge on the game, and yet we’ve been able to replace Foxy with vast experience and at a slightly different level, having coached internationally in the north, so I think it’s a great addition to what we offer.”

That knowledge that Schmidt possesses equips the All Blacks well with how to deal with what they were confronted with in their defeats this year.

Whether it was their struggles against South Africa’s forward pack and kick-heavy tactics, Ireland’s dominance of possession and territory, or France’s hybrid style of both game plans, there is plenty for the All Blacks to work through before next year.

Foster has acknowledged that, though, and said Schmidt’s intellect as a veteran of the European game and rugby outside of New Zealand will do plenty for the Kiwis as they continue to build towards the 2023 World Cup in France.

“It’s obvious that it’s really topical now. We’ve had a pretty successful 2021, but we’ve lost to two northern hemisphere teams and that hurt,” Foster said.

“By the way, we lost to two very good northern hemisphere teams, so we know we’ve got a bit of growth to do and a bit of learning to do, and I’m sure that Joe’s experience in the northern hemisphere’s going to be really useful for us, but it’s not the only thing.

“It’s more about him as a person, his ability to look at players and see strengths and weaknesses, and they’re key attributes as a selector.”

According to Foster, those attributes aren’t the sole defining factors of Schmidt’s selector position, as the former will “absolutely” use the latter as a soundboard for the All Blacks’ tactical blueprint, just as he did with Fox during his spell in that role.

“I think Foxy has been, for a long time, a great sounding board in that space, and because he watches so much rugby, he’ll see a lot of things, and I think Joe will be exactly the same,” Foster said.

“How we unfold that or how that looks over the next year-and-a-half, we’ll just grow that as we see fit, but, at the moment, yes, I certainly will be [discussing tactics with Schmidt], and I’m really excited about saying, ‘Well, here’s what we do, not what do you think?’, and, ‘Here’s what we’re thinking’, and, ‘Where are some obvious areas that we can change and grow?’.

“I think, two years out from a World Cup, it’s a great time to do that. I think this current year’s shown we’ve had a really good formula for the last part of the year, but it didn’t quite work at the end, so we’ve got to pull that apart, and Joe will be a great asset for us to go through that process as well.

“Finally, we had 40 players on the northern hemisphere tour, and nearly all of them, we felt, played at a really good level, so the selection side of the job is going to be as equally tough as we narrow it down going into a World Cup.”

Before all of that, though, Schmidt has his sights set on helping deliver the Blues with the inaugural Super Rugby Pacific title in his part-time role as a support coach next year.

Schmidt’s job with the Auckland-based franchise comes after he relocated to New Zealand from Ireland to work in a consultancy role for World Rugby after the last World Cup, and he is eager to give back to the country he began his illustrious coaching career in.

“It’s exciting. I was soundboarding for a few coaches last year. Leon [MacDonald, Blues head coach] was obviously a key one, and so continuing that relationship with the Blues is kind of full circle for me, and I’m really looking forward to that in the short-term,” Schmidt said.

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