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Is Ian Foster the right coach to lead the All Blacks forward?

By RugbyPass
(Photos by Antonietta Baldassarre/Insidefoto/LightRocket via Getty/ Anthony Au-Yeung/Getty Images and Jason O'Brien / www.photosport.nz)

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The RugbyPass Round Table writers answer the big questions at the end of 2021, looking back at the year that was in context to what lays ahead. Alex McLeod (AM), Tom Vinicombe (TV), Nick Turnbull (NT), Mike Rehu (MR), Ben Smith (BS), Jordan King (JK), Finn Morton (FM) and Jack O’Rourke (JO) weigh in on a range of topics on the international game and more in this end-of-2021 review. 

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Ian Foster’s All Blacks started the year with a big win over Tonga, which was followed by a 2-0 series win over Fiji. They then held the Bledisloe Cup with a clean sweep of the Wallabies with back-t0-back wins at Eden Park before a third victory in Perth.

The All Blacks went on to account for Argentina before scraping by South Africa in their historic 100th test. A week later, the Springboks prevented the All Blacks from a perfect Rugby Championship by turning the tables with 10 seconds to go and capturing the lead in the final play of the game.

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Closing out the year in Europe, the All Blacks started with a big win over the USA in Washington, and convincingly beat Wales 54-16 in Beauden Barrett’s 100th test, but weren’t so precise against Italy. Perhaps that was a sign of things to come in the last two tests of the season, both of whim ended with losses to Ireland and France.

After finishing the year with 12 wins and three losses, here’s how our panel rated Ian Foster’s sophomore campaign as All Blacks head coach.

In your view, is Ian Foster the right coach to lead the All Blacks?

BS: Foster needs to evolve the All Blacks’ game in 2022.

They are recycling old game plans and old plays with pieces that do not fit. There is seemingly no consideration of tailoring plans to opposition weaknesses. The basic fundamentals eroded as the year went on, despite Foster claiming the side wasn’t tired.

All the evidence suggests they aren’t where they need to be. If they fail to evolve their thinking, results will stay the same against the strongest test sides.

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If Foster can continue to grow and seek out other perspectives, they can solve the problems. There shouldn’t be anything stopping the All Blacks coaching staff tapping into all the resources at NZR’s disposal in search of answers, and the appointment of Joe Schmidt is a good step in that direction.

If they stay the same, they will continue to fall to the back to the leading pack. They are there or thereabouts, just clearly no longer on top of the rugby world and looked out of ideas at times against the best of the best.

They have some of the best natural attacking talent in the world. Surely they can innovate and get back to playing an attractive brand of All Blacks rugby that backs the players’ skills.

AM: When NZR could have picked any one of Scott Robertson, Dave Rennie or Jamie Joseph and Tony Brown to replace Sir Steve Hansen as All Blacks boss after the last World Cup, you can understand why the Kiwi public was sceptical of Ian Foster’s appointment.

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However, the man in question has signed on until the next World Cup, and it seems highly unlikely that he will be removed from his post before then, so discussing whether or not he is the right man to lead the All Blacks is redundant.

What’s important is that he hires the right support staff right (the recruitment of Joe Schmidt as a selector could be a masterstroke move) to help identify and address his side’s shortcomings, something they failed to do this year.

TV: Not many people like to admit that much of what happens on a rugby field comes down to luck and were it not for a few unlucky bounces of the ball in the Autumn Nations Series, the All Blacks could have gone undefeated on their tour.

There are certainly some weaknesses in New Zealand’s game but it’s how Ian Foster and his coaching team respond next year that will be the measure of the man.

FM: I haven’t always agreed with what I’m about to say, but, controversially in the view of some, I’m going to say yes.

Foster has been in and around the All Blacks setup for years now, having won the 2015 World Cup as an assistant – that’s experience that you can’t buy.

But I would suggest that he needs the right supporting cast to succeed. Imagine any combination of Joe Schmidt, Scott Robertson and Warren Gatland as assistant coaches for the All Blacks.

Everyone would expect the All Blacks to be world-beaters once again, whereas at the moment those expectations are more a want.

MR: Ian Foster was never the right coach to lead the All Blacks, but because NZR now has appointed him until the big World Cup dance in 2023, All Black fans will have to hope we can win the World Cup despite him, through player power.

For that to happen, in 2022, squad athletes have to join Sam Whitelock, Ardie Savea, Aaron Smith, Will Jordan and Jordie Barrett to stamp themselves as first-choice, world-class players so they can form cohesive partnerships that win big games under pressure.

NT: As an Australian, it is hard to comment as Fozzie’s All Blacks did the job against the Wallabies again in the Bledisloe Cup series.

However, the results against South Africa and France would be of some concern to those on the other side of the ditch. They require a rejuvenation of identity that will lead to a change in the expression of play. I think Scott Robertson is the man for that job.

JK: No. With all due respect to Tonga, Fiji, Australia and Argentina, Foster and his coaching staff knew going into 2021 that their greatest challenges would come against South Africa, Ireland and France.

The All Blacks managed to go one from two against a Springboks side which had lost back-to-back tests to the Wallabies, and were then played off the park in both Dublin and Paris.

Foster’s first year in charge may have been disrupted by the pandemic, and three months on tour isn’t the norm in the professional era, but I feel confident in thinking the team would be in a better place had Razor been given the nod.

JO: There is the age-old joke that the All Blacks could coach themselves. In truth, Ian Foster has presided over two extremely difficult years as the All Blacks coach, and results have not been favourable. Perhaps he is not the right man for the job, but given we are now two years out from a World Cup, will the next man up have time to turn the ship around?

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