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Please don't hand any awards out to Ian Foster

By Hamish Bidwell

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And the nominees are…

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Well, in the case of New Zealand coach of the year, there are none.

Unusual that.

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Here is a prize that celebrates the highest achiever among the coaches of our national rugby teams and yet no-one has been formally listed. It’s not like it was a packed field, either.

As far as I can tell, only four teams actually took the park properly in 2021: the All Blacks, Black Ferns XVs, Black Ferns Sevens and men’s seven a-side team.

I’ll confess I had to check that Clark Laidlaw was still head coach of the men’s sevens side. Fair to say he probably won’t be winning, anyway.

That leaves Ian Foster (All Blacks), Glen Moore – who went 0-4 with the Black Ferns this year – and then Allan Bunting and Cory Sweeney, fresh from helping guide the Black Ferns Sevens side to Olympic gold.

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Look, I’m not that big on awards. There’s too much subjectivity, among other things, for my liking.

But New Zealand Rugby (NZR) are staging their annual awards and have named finalists in various categories, just not in the premier coaching one. Perhaps there’s not enough to celebrate?

In keeping with my lack of enthusiasm for awards, I’ll be honest and say I don’t know who won last year’s overall prize, the Kelvin R Tremain Memorial Player of the Year. I do know that Black Ferns halfback Kendra Cocksedge claimed it a couple of years ago and I would probably award it to a female player this time too.

In fact, Black Ferns Sevens captain Sarah Hirini probably ought to win the Tom French Cup, the female sevens prize and then the Kelvin R Tremain, given her immense contribution to that Olympic gold medal.

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A win for Bunting and Sweeney, against their unnamed peers, would cap a pretty impressive night for female sevens all round.

If we’re talking about the stand-out male player of the season, then Jordie Barrett, Rieko Ioane, Will Jordan and Ardie Savea are the listed nominees. All had their moments, but I’d probably try and mount the strongest argument for Barrett.

The thing is that no All Black really presented a compelling case this year, which was reflected in World Rugby’s own award nominees.

No New Zealander made the shortlist of four for men’s player of the year, although Foster did find himself among World Rugby’s finalists for coach of the year.

I don’t want to labour the awards point too much but, again, I’ve no idea who was world player of the year in 2020. I’ve a feeling Beauden Barrett, Daniel Carter, Richie McCaw and Kieran Read have claimed that prize in the past, but rugby is about team achievements.

It’s about winning games and tournaments and having a squad who swept all before them.

When we fixate on the achievements of goal kickers and ball runners, we overlook the contribution of others on the paddock who’ve paved the way for those individual highlights to happen.

No matter how esteemed a judging panel might be, it’s all just an opinion. In the end, teams and players and coaches are actually judged on the Rugby World Cups they won and not a lot else.

These are interesting times for the game in New Zealand. Our flagship 15 a-side teams both had a humbling time of it in Europe, there’s no certainty that Super Rugby Pacific can be successfully staged next year – nor much enthusiasm for the domestic product we’ve had for the last two seasons – while provincial rugby barely registers with the public anymore.

Heck, we can’t even find some finalists for coach of the year.

Far from needing a televised night of backslapping next week, NZR should actually be thinking about how to reconnect with a fanbase that have become rather apathetic.

The good folk at NZR don’t like it when people are critical of their stewardship of the game or say uncomplimentary things about the All Blacks’ coach and the players.

Frankly, a few home truths should be the least of NZR’s worries. The real problems come when people can’t even be bothered to complain anymore.

We’re almost at that point. That point where people are more interested in their streaming services, than Saturday’s big game.

Have some awards, if you must. Separate the good from the not-so-good, if you have to.

But don’t put it on TV. Not in 2021 when the rank and file know there wasn’t much to get enthused about.

And, for God’s sake, don’t hand any awards out to Ian Foster.

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