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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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GrahamVF 311 days ago

Relax Foz. You didn't have to throw the first game. It was out of your hands - unless you're now saying you would rather play SA in the quarters but then of course if SA do beat Scotland they could also throw the Irish game, but I think on the evidence SA would rather play NZ in the quarters.

Dave 312 days ago

The first game will be a cracker, the most important games start in the quarters

Pecos 312 days ago

Every time Foster opens his trap & Cane is cheerleadered by Beaudie, I barf in my mouth. That said, all of the arrogant talk from media, pundits, fans, & the rugby "elite" hyping Ireland, Boks, & Les Bleus, reminds me of the hype for the ABs at RWC2003 & RWC2007.

Greg 312 days ago

I think Fossie knows - or ought to - that the ABs cannot win against France (or Ireland or the Boks) without so many key players - Lomax, their only international class tight-head, Frizzell (ditto No. 6), and Jordie Barrett, (ditto No. 12) not to mention Retallick. We're all putting on a brave face but hoping like hell those guys get back by the quarters (and that we don't lose anyone else who is critical, like Ioane). On the other hand, some injuries might help Fossie's selections, because he might not otherwise be brave enough to drop Cane or Beuden Barrett.

Pecos 312 days ago

ABs have kicked French arses 14 of last 15 test matches & I expect will do so this one. Unfortunately the French & their fans are psyching themselves out. Reminds me of RWC2003, RWC2007 NZ campaigns tbh.

Brian 312 days ago

Well, they still get to face a tough opponent in the QF against IRE or SA. So think he's just softening the blow for all their supporters if they go down hard against the French. The All Black mentality has changed. Never thought I'd ever hear that from an AB coach - choosing the "easy way out".

Drew 312 days ago

Not good to hear about an All Black coach talking about "if we lose"

Ben Smith is a Dick 312 days ago

A good excuse for another loss, when the All Blacks loose the opening game Foster will say he planed it that way to get an easier quater final! So an easier quater final means they don't have to play SA, sounds like he's running scared, scared of what he saw in the warm up game 💪

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