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NZR will go to extraordinary lengths to avoid admitting wrong

By Hamish Bidwell
(Photo by Phil Walter/Getty Images)

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We asked New Zealand Rugby (NZR) to lead and they’ve led.

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Whether the decision to retain Ian Foster as All Blacks head coach amounts to the blind leading the blind remains to be seen.

I’ve never been in favour of Foster ascending to that role and nothing I’ve seen since comes remotely close to convincing me he deserved to stay there.

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He definitely should have gone down with the ship when the careers of assistants John Plumtree and Brad Mooar were effectively sunk. They were his blokes, he recruited them, he argued for their retention and yet he escaped responsibility when the pair were finally jettisoned after the 2-1 series loss to Ireland.

That’s not to say Plumtree and Mooar didn’t deserve to go or that the All Blacks’ overall coaching staff isn’t better now. But we cannot pretend that the team’s performances and results while Mooar and Plumtree were around weren’t Foster’s fault.

And so to yesterday and NZR’s fulsome praise of Foster and the addition of Joe Schmidt to his staff.

The Schmidt bit is clearly a good outcome. He is undoubtedly one of the game’s great coaches and his influence should ensure the All Blacks’ competitiveness.

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But, again, it is a recognition of Foster’s failings. It is an acknowledgement that he isn’t capable of actually coaching the team or co-ordinating a campaign himself.

New Zealand Rugby can state their absolute confidence in Foster till the cows come home, but coercing Schmidt – a man most people accept didn’t want a full-time or travelling coaching role anymore – to join the team suggests otherwise.

I know people are tired of this. I know people are certainly sick of me writing about it.

They want us all to get behind the team and to support Ian Foster. They believe Sunday’s (NZ time) win over South Africa to be a vindication of the man and his methods and they want us all to move on.

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It’s funny, though, isn’t it? All the media men charged with travelling with the All Blacks and covering their day-to-day business thought Foster was a goner.

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They all wrote his rugby obituary and all told us Scott Robertson was set to assume the position. All of them.

People don’t invent those stories and they sure as eggs don’t write them to be popular with the people they’re covering. They wrote those stories because everything they’d seen and heard told them Foster’s tenure would end at Ellis Park.

They had an obligation to the truth and, as awkward as it made touring life for them, they lived up to it.

And now NZR chairman Stewart Mitchell and chief executive Mark Robinson want to sit there, as they did in Auckland yesterday, and tell us Foster was never under pressure and the team are poised for world domination? Please.

That’s what sticks in the craw. That belief that we can be treated as fools, as we have ever since the “search’’ for Steve Hansen’s successor began.

Let’s be clear, getting Joe Schmidt and Jason Ryan in to hold Foster’s hand and/or do his job for him is a good result. A great result, actually.

The All Blacks still have playing personnel issues, as evidenced by the results leading up to Ellis Park, but at least coaches are now in place who’ll give them a better chance of performing to their potential.

Those players must not want Scott Robertson, by the way.

Never mind that, before Ellis Park, the only game the All Blacks won in the preceding half-dozen was when Foster was out with Covid. These blokes appeared pretty hellbent on continuing to have Foster around.

Contract or not, I’m surprised Robertson is still here.

I know there was a suggestion he was a bit presumptuous and unpatriotic when he told a podcast he’d like to win a world cup with a country other than New Zealand. Well, another nation is clearly his best bet.

He might not have wanted the All Blacks job now. Foster might owe his retention to the fact that no-one else would do it instead.

But whatever the specifics, Robertson would benefit from being elsewhere. From testing his methods on different athletes with different mindsets.

It was telling that Sam Whitelock was among those senior All Blacks to endorse Foster. Now Whitelock won’t be around forever but, if he’s anything to go by, Robertson’s eventual All Blacks prospects might be improved by inheriting a playing group who haven’t been coached by him before.

So go overseas. Get away from the endless speculation that you should have or will get the All Blacks job and start winning titles with someone else.

If these past few weeks have told us anything, it’s that NZR will go to extraordinary lengths – and hire and fire any number of assistants – to avoid admitting they appointed the wrong head coach.

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