Scott Robertson relives his near misses with the All Blacks' top job
On each occasion, Robertson was swimming upstream, attempting to disrupt what had become the traditional All Blacks succession planning, which had seen an assistant promoted to head coach with any vacancy in recent decades.
But as time passed, Robertson’s claim for the title became harder to ignore. Seven Super Rugby championships in as many years proved the former All Black was in a class of his own, ready to take the mantle and run with it.
Reflecting on the journey, Razor has shed light on how some of the decisions played out.
“In 2019, the continuity thing was quite important to them (New Zealand Rugby),” he told 1News.
“I was fresh, I was young, I had all these different ideas. There was probably a little bit of fear in it really. So I thought ok, I’ve just got to keep winning. Just stay in the fight.”
A task easier said than done, but one that only Robertson would be capable of. With his trophy cabinet gaining another three cups since 2019 and Ian Foster in rocky terrain, 2022 saw Razor get a second sniff at a promotion.
The All Blacks had lost their first-ever series on home soil to Ireland, they then lost to South Africa and fans were yet to recover from further losses to Ireland and France on the 2021 Northern Tour. A second fixture against the Springboks loomed as the decisive result and the fate of Robertson, Foster, the Crusaders and All Blacks rested on a knife’s edge.
“I was contacted, ‘Are you interested?’ I said ‘Yes, I’m still ready. I’ll have a crack at it whenever you want me to.’
“I got a phone call half an hour before the press conference that they had decided to stay with the status quo.
“I went to Maloolaba, and at the airport in Brisbane, I was getting my bags and a guy came up to me and goes ‘Mate, I feel for you, you should’ve got the job’. The first person I saw was just a straight reminder!” Robertson laughed.
Having been denied twice, rumours swirled about Razor’s future. England let go of Eddie Jones, Wales let go of Wayne Pivac and Fiji had a vacancy after Vern Cotter stepped down. Robertson’s name was floated in every circle and as he would later confirm, the coach “had a few options.”
But his dream job was worth waiting for.
“I’m a natural optimist. Yesterday’s a heavy backpack, you want to cut it off, get rid of it and move forward.”
That optimism would be tested one more time though, as a reshuffle in Foster’s coaching ranks saw Robertson’s right hand man recruited to the national set up.
Jason Ryan’s success with the Crusaders was recognised and he was employed to lead the All Blacks forwards’ charge at the Rugby World Cup. It was inevitably an emotional time for Razor, seeing his partner in crime move on while dealing with his own near miss. He quickly switched his mentality though.
“Tough, it was real tough when I got the call from Jase (Ryan). In the back of your mind, you think ‘who would you take?’ Of course, you’d take him.
“My real job, from Canterbury to the Crusaders and New Zealand U20s is to create All Blacks, select All Blacks, same with your staff. Selecting on the field but also off the field. The best thing for the country was Jason. The way we did it I think was really mature and really professional, and personal.
“What he did and how he prepared his team, it’s priceless. Priceless.”
In the end though, it was only a matter of time before Robertson’s loyalty and continued success was rewarded, and after some hints and premature remarks, the top job was his. As he now says: “It worked out. Third time lucky.”
The appointment wasn’t without controversy, as New Zealand Rugby ditched their standard practice of waiting to appoint the next World Cup cycle’s coach until after the campaign at hand. Ian Foster voiced his disapproval of the decision’s timing, labeling it a potential distraction for the team at a crucial time.
Foster was subject to severe public criticism throughout his head coaching tenure, and having his fate sealed before his time was up denied the coach a chance to go out on his own terms. Robertson says he empathises with his predecessor, but knows how this game works.
“Of course you do (empathise), we’re humans and stuff but it’s a professional game and you understand that you’re a public figure. People are going to pass judgment. Expectations and results are what people are going to look at. There’s always a percentage beside your name isn’t there?”
And so, the future is here, Razor will helm the All Blacks’ voyage into the next era and he’s got a clear message for anyone who wants to join him on that journey.
“An All Black player under me has to love the pressure, have the ability to walk towards that and they’re an effort-based player. So, your talent’s got you here but on and off the field, you have to keep earning it, earning it and earning it.”