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'Just throw the first game’: All Blacks head coach Ian Foster on World Cup strategy

By Ben Smith
New Zealand's head coach Ian Foster gives a press conference at the Stade de France in Saint-Denis, near Paris on September 7, 2023, on the eve of the opening match of the Rugby World Cup 2023. (Photo by Anne-Christine POUJOULAT / AFP)

All Blacks head coach Ian Foster says he has “never seen” a build-up to the opening game of the Rugby World Cup against host nation France.


The host nation has strong expectations after reaching the number one ranking briefly in 2022 after an undefeated Test season and Grand Slam Six Nations title.

There is a sense that France have every chance to topple the All Blacks, which would be New Zealand’s first ever loss at the pool stages.

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On whether the opening clash is a “must win”, Foster shared his thoughts on 2019 where the All Blacks defeated South Africa in pool play but ended up with a tougher path into the finals.

“I’m often asked what we’d do differently about 2019 and I said ‘Just throw the first game’. We beat South Africa and they happened to have a different path to the final,” Foster said.

“You never know in tournaments. We have one clear goal, to make sure we qualify and get into a quarter-final situation. Then it is a one-off game.

“Everybody is talking about this game, but we have also got Namibia, Uruguay and a very enthusiastic Italian team.


“But this game is special in its own right. This is my third World Cup and I have never seen so much put on it.

“I think that’s because the host nation has strong expectations of winning it, the same with the public, against a team I think the public have a lot of respect for.

“It is well scripted and it’s a game we want to commit everything to. But if we win or lose, it doesn’t change much. We have still got to qualify out of this group.”

It is an unfamiliar position for the All Blacks to be in, who often have been heavy tournament favourites heading into each Rugby World Cup.


Despite going in as favourites, it hasn’t always resulted in success with just one of their three World Cup titles coming overseas.

The All Blacks were able to win the 1987 and 2011 tournaments at home, but have had massive disappointments in plenty of others, include two shock defeats in the knockout stages to France in 1999 and 2007.

Foster said that poor return from tournaments hosted elsewhere was “definitely” a motivating factor for the squad and he felt they were representing those sides of the past that failed.

“We have won three World Cups and are the most successful nation alongside South Africa,” he said.

“Yet when you look at how hard it is to win them, we have won one out of seven away.

“That shows you the size of the task. You learn over history that you don’t just turn up and win, you’ve got to play well – and lot of All Blacks team haven’t achieved that.

“In a way we are representing them, we have learnt some lessons. 2015 was special but we felt some pain in Japan. We are in a strong rugby country with some strong nations at the moment.

“It’s going to be a pretty special tournament and there’s no doubt that as a group, we have to be at the peak of our game.”


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