Ian Foster has revealed a significant reduction in the All Blacks leadership group is helping drive his new era.
Rather than replace experienced figures such as Kieran Read, Ben Smith, Sonny Bill Williams and Ryan Crotty who all departed after last year’s World Cup, Foster has instead compressed the number of players responsible for delivering player-driven messages.
Sam Cane, with a series of commanding performances, continues to grow into the captaincy role he assumed from Read this year.
Locking away the Bledisloe Cup represents the first triumph of the Foster-Cane partnership that is in its infancy.
“He’s done a job he can be particularly proud of,” Foster said of his skipper. “He’s led the team well off the field, he’s empowering others, he’s got a very dynamic leadership team, it’s a smaller team than we’ve had before but there’s people who are really shining in that space such as the Sam Whitelock, Aaron Smith and Beauden Barrett who have done a good job supporting him.
“What I love about Sam is his first job is to play well. If you look at his performances on the park it’s pretty clear and obvious how much it means to him to lead this team.”
Probed about the reduction in the leadership group, Foster revealed he has opted for a tight-knit team.
“We lost about five from last year so basically we haven’t replaced them so the leadership group is significantly smaller. We felt with some new coaches and a few other new people it was important we get a few people aligned at a deep level and then we’ll see whether we expand it after that.
“It’s been really beneficial because it’s put a lot of pressure on some of our leaders to make sure they are leading really effectively and putting a lot of work into that space so we’re delighted with where we are at.”
The All Blacks have ensured the Bledisloe Cup will stay in New Zealand for yet another year after blowing the Wallabies out to hand themselves a 29-5 victory in Sydney. #BledisloeCup #AUSvNZL https://t.co/7IlUkykUk4
— RugbyPass (@RugbyPass) October 31, 2020
One of the many advantages the All Blacks held over the Wallabies in their record 43-5 victory in Sydney was superior experience.
While 20-year-old Wallabies rookie playmaker Noah Lolesio struggled to find his feet on the big stage, in the last two tests the All Blacks have seen the likes of Caleb Clarke, Hoskins Sotutu, Alex Hodgman and Tupou Vaa’i all flourish on debut.
The depth of the All Blacks is such that many more new faces – Cullen Grace and Will Jordan among them – are likely to get their chance in the coming weeks, too.
The ease with which the All Blacks rookies have transitioned is testament to their temperament yet it also highlights an environment that allows them to immediately feel comfortable to transfer their skills from Super Rugby to the test arena.
Coaches, of course, play a large role in that process but so, too, is the leadership group responsible for getting the best out of all players, particularly those new to this highly scrutinised stage.
Many wondered aloud what changes would come from the Foster taking the reins from Steve Hansen.
Reducing the leadership group is one tweak that already appears to be paying off, with All Blacks halfback TJ Perenara noting the difference.
“Whether you add or take people away from the leadership group you are going to notice that. The big influence it’s had our on group is it’s given more people time to have their voice,” Perenara said. “When you’ve got 12 people sitting in a room compared to eight it’s just math that you’re going to have more time to have a discussion about certain points without having to have so much different input.
“The dynamic of this group gives us more of an opportunity to chew the fat a little bit more on issues that come up. It gives people more opportunity to have their voice heard and we’re not rushed as much in a lot of our conversations which leads to a little bit more clarity.
“We’ve got a lot of leaders in this group who either captain their Super Rugby franchises or are in leadership roles so you see those boys stepping up and being leaders throughout the week which is so helpful to Sam and to be able to perform at the level we need to.”
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