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Report: Ian Foster joins Sir Steve Hansen in Japan Rugby League One

By Ned Lester
Ian Foster, Head Coach of New Zealand, looks on as he walks past The Webb Ellis Cup during the Rugby World Cup Final match between New Zealand and South Africa at Stade de France on October 28, 2023 in Paris, France. (Photo by Michael Steele - World Rugby/World Rugby via Getty Images)

Former All Blacks coach Ian Foster has reportedly signed a deal that would see him join the wealth of former international coaches in Japan’s Rugby League One after departing the All Blacks in 2023.

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Foster led the New Zealand side to the Rugby World Cup final after a tumultuous head coaching tenure, but had previously opted not to reapply for the role after friction with New Zealand Rugby.

Since then, the coach’s next step has been shrouded in mystery.

On Tuesday afternoon, New Zealand publication The Herald reported that Foster is in line to join Toyota Verblitz in League One, a move that would see him rejoin fellow former All Blacks head honcho Sir Steve Hansen, who occupies the Director of Rugby role at the club.

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Along with the coaching maestro, Foster would be joining a roster that includes some familiar faces.

All Blacks Aaron Smith and Beauden Barrett are currently in the Toyota squad, although the latter is set to return to Super Rugby Pacific in 2025. Tom Robinson, formerly of the Blues and recent Highlanders lock Josh Dickson are also with the club along with current Rugby World Cup winners Pieter-Steph du Toit and Willie le Roux.

Foster was adamant he should wait until after he had concluded his time with the All Blacks to entertain any coaching offers, leaving him to enter unemployment during a down period across the world’s coaching landscape.

Now as the League One season nears its end and Toyota find themselves treading water with a 50 per cent winning record, it appears the club has swooped on the accomplished free agent.

Foster would be coaching against the likes of familiar friends and foes in Dave Rennie, Robbie Deans and Todd Blackadder in League One and be performing under the watchful eye of new Brave Blossoms coach Eddie Jones.

The reported signing comes after Foster confirmed he had put pen to paper on an undisclosed new deal last week in an interview with The Platform, and some months after he last commented on his future publicly.

“I’ve got lots of ideas but first I’m going to mow my lawns,” Foster said when queried on his plans while in France at the World Cup. “I will be coaching though, by the way.

“Any time I got offered any opportunity to coach after the World Cup, I said I wasn’t interested, until after the World Cup, to talk about it. I felt the team deserved to have an All Blacks head coach that they knew was 100 per cent committed to this team right now.

“There are no secret plans. It may be my stubborn pride but I didn’t want them reading that I was talking to someone else because I don’t think that’s conducive to a team environment. Technically I’ll get home and on the 1st of November be unemployed.”

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Jon 1 days ago
Why Sam Cane's path to retirement is perfect for him and the All Blacks

> It would be best described as an elegant solution to what was potentially going to be a significant problem for new All Blacks coach Scott Robertson. It is a problem the mad population of New Zealand will have to cope with more and more as All Blacks are able to continue their careers in NZ post RWCs. It will not be a problem for coaches, who are always going to start a campaign with the captain for the next WC in mind. > Cane, despite his warrior spirit, his undoubted commitment to every team he played for and unforgettable heroics against Ireland in last year’s World Cup quarter-final, was never unanimously admired or respected within New Zealand while he was in the role. Neither was McCaw, he was considered far too passive a captain and then out of form until his last world cup where everyone opinions changed, just like they would have if Cane had won the WC. > It was never easy to see where Cane, or even if, he would fit into Robertson’s squad given the new coach will want to be building a new-look team with 2027 in mind. > Cane will win his selections on merit and come the end of the year, he’ll sign off, he hopes, with 100 caps and maybe even, at last, universal public appreciation for what was a special career. No, he won’t. Those returning from Japan have already earned the right to retain their jersey, it’s in their contract. Cane would have been playing against England if he was ready, and found it very hard to keep his place. Perform, and they keep it however. Very easy to see where Cane could have fit, very hard to see how he could have accomplished it choosing this year as his sabbatical instead of 2025, and that’s how it played out (though I assume we now know what when NZR said they were allowing him to move his sabbatical forward and return to NZ next year, they had actually agreed to simply select him for the All Blacks from overseas, without any chance he was going to play in NZ again). With a mammoth season of 15 All Black games they might as well get some value out of his years contract, though even with him being of equal character to Richie, I don’t think they should guarantee him his 100 caps. That’s not what the All Blacks should be about. He absolutely has to play winning football.

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