As far as first seasons in charge of the All Blacks go, Ian Foster’s won’t go down in history as one of the greats – but that’s not necessarily due to anything the man in charge had control over.
Foster, having assisted Steve Hansen for eight years from 2012 to 2019, was appointed head coach of the New Zealand national side late last year.
2020 was hugely disrupted by COVID-19, with the international season not kicking off until October. The All Blacks played just six tests this year – four against Australia followed by two against Argentina.
Contrast that with the original plan, which would have seen NZ host Wales and Scotland in July, before kicking off a six-game Rugby Championship followed by a four-match tour to Europe.
Needless to say, it wasn’t the easiest start to Foster’s reign – and that gave his critics ammunition to have a dig at the former Chiefs coach.
Speaking with the NZ Herald, Foster revealed that the disrupted season significantly impacted many of the coaching team’s plans for the year.
“It’s been a big learning curve,” Foster said of his first year in charge. “We’ve got a new coaching group this year. We only had six tests to try things so we didn’t try all the changes we will end up making because we didn’t have enough games to do that. We had a new captain, new leadership group, 14 new or returning All Blacks in the extended squad and that involved bringing a whole lot of people up to speed.
“We were hoping for six brilliant consistent performances. We didn’t get them. That’s not unique in this business. Our job is to keep growing.
“There’s a whole lot of unique leadership challenges that haven’t been there before with COVID and everything. I believe we dealt with that as best as we could.
“We didn’t get the overall consistency we desired. That’s disappointing but it was a year that was punctuated by some real highs and a couple of lows.”
Foster included bouncing back against Argentina in the All Blacks’ final game of the Tri-Nations as one of the highs, while the initial loss (the first-ever in New Zealand’s history) was undoubtedly one of the lowest points.
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Those low points fueled critics, who were always on hand to take potshots at the new head coach – though Foster admitted he wasn’t hugely shocked by the attention.
“None of that surprised me. When you’re a head coach anywhere you live in that space. I always felt accountable when I was with the All Blacks the last eight years. Does it ramp up? Yes it does.
“I probably got used to it because when I got appointed there were a few people who decided I wasn’t the right person for the job and they’ve been reasonably relentless in saying that whenever they can. That hasn’t changed, so it’s not a surprise to me. My job is to absorb all that and make sure I don’t get hung up on it and focus on making this team better and better.”
The year clearly didn’t pan out the way Foster anticipated – in more ways than one – and the new head coach is looking forward to sinking his teeth back into the national set-up next season.
“My prevailing emotion is I feel like we’ve just started,” he said.
“2020 certainly met my expectations for the nature and challenge of the job. There’s no doubt from a personal side I know it’s a massive role with this team and this country so that part didn’t disappoint.”
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