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'Nearly men': Ian Foster's All Black legacy as head coach

By Kim Ekin
Beauden Barrett of New Zealand looks dejected as they walk past the Webb Ellis Cup after the Rugby World Cup France 2023 Gold Final match between New Zealand and South Africa at Stade de France on October 28, 2023 in Paris, France. (Photo by Paul Harding/Getty Images)

The All Blacks under head coach Ian Foster will be remembered as the “nearly men” after a turbulent four years culminated in a one-point loss in the Rugby World Cup final.

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That’s the view of New Zealand Herald’s chief rugby writer Liam Napier who reflected on Foster’s legacy with the side on Newstalk ZB’s Rugby Direct podcast.

The departing coach took over the All Blacks in 2020 after Steve Hansen at a time where rugby was upended by the global pandemic.

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Despite capturing a Tri-Nations crown, they finished with three wins from six matches in 2020 including a historic first ever loss to Argentina.

In late 2021 the All Blacks were stumped by South Africa, France and Ireland which sent alarm bells through New Zealand Rugby.

A home series loss to Ireland in 2022 forced change with two assistant coaches leaving the set-up.

Foster’s head coaching tenure with the All Blacks came to an end against South Africa in heart-breaking fashion as his 14-man side came close to an improbable victory after losing captain Sam Cane in the first half.

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“It is quite hard to sum that four-year era in its entirety,” Napier told Elliot Smith on Rugby Direct.

“Because it was two and a half years of underperforming, and then post-Ireland series of 2022 some definitive improvements.

“We had the England draw at Twickenham where they collapsed. Then they smashed the Rugby Championship, go up north have the record defeat to South Africa at Twickenham, lose to France on opening night.

“In the second part of that tenure, they did show a great deal of resilience during one of the toughest times the All Blacks have ever seen.

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“It was a hell of an achievement to get past Ireland in that quarter-final, that’s one of the greatest Test matches in history, and they should have won the World Cup final despite the red card, they had their chances.

“The All Blacks had that game in the palm of their hands despite the red card. That would have changed the perspective of that era.

“They were the nearly men, weren’t they?”

Rugby Direct co-host and Newstalk ZB rugby commentator Elliot Smith shared a similar view that the All Blacks weren’t consistent enough to be considered world class.

The commentator said that 2020 was forgivable given the circumstances but that 2021 and 2022 illustrated a “power shift” had taken place within the international game towards the North.

“They were almost always there or thereabouts, but sometimes not quite good enough to take that final step,” Smith said.

“I agree with you Liam that the All Blacks always took two steps forward and one step back.

“Never quite felt like they were totally secure and “world class” in that top echelon of one or two teams.

“As it was, they beat the top team and then a fortnight later lost the World Cup.

“It was up-and-down, right over the last four years.”

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9 Comments
M
Michael 230 days ago

Thankfully Ryan & Schmidt came in and helped save & turn around a failing AB coach & team respectively.

However in the end the ABs never really overcame the failings of the first 2.5 formative years under Foster, Plumtree, Moaar and McCleod coaching team.

But even Ryan & Schmidt couldn’t make it a complete turnaround and while there were some good performances under the new regimen - most notably Boks at Mount Smart and of course the quarter final against Ireland.

There were still some scary lows - England, Australia in Dunedin and of course Twickenham (but there were reasonable reasons for under- performance that day), and a 2nd half disaster against France.

the fact they came so close to winning Final risks masking clear failures.

The Stats however will unmask flaws - most penalized international team, most yellow and red cards - failure to score in final quarter, number times they gave up 15+ point leads, woeful kicking etc. So the writing was on the wall.

Robertson must do a complete reset - clean out the poor culture and remove favorites.

B
Bob Marler 234 days ago

“The All Blacks had that game in the palm of their hands despite the red card.”

Whatever. Can we move on now?

S
Shayne 234 days ago

Rugby union, media and Hansen just as much to blame as Foster, it was so obvious that the emperor had no clothes on.

G
G 234 days ago

Foster - 2 forward and 1 back sometimes and 2 forward and 3 back another times

C
Clive 234 days ago

“should have won the World Cup” and that ladies and gentlemen sums up the entitled Kiwis. No wonder you can’t win when it matters. Just wake up. You are an average tier 1 side.

J
Jon 234 days ago

‘Nearly winners’ might be a better title…for all RWC fans, no one deserves to win - tier 1 nations need to act less entitled - build up to 2027 should be good though…

A
Andrew 234 days ago

Nearly men…..who when it really counted showed that 6 yrs after first encountering it on the Lions tour of 2017 they still had not got the skills and accuracy to deal with a stifling defence.

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finn 8 hours ago
Ireland and South Africa share the same player development dilemma

What a difference 9 months makes! Last autumn everyone was talking about how important versatile bench players were to SA’s WC win, now we’re back to only wanting specialists? The timing of this turn is pretty odd when you consider that some of the best players on the pitch in the SA/Ireland match were Osbourne (a centre playing out of position at 15), Feinberg-Mngomezulu (a fly-half/centre playing out of position at 15), and Frawley (a utility back). Having specialists across the backline is great, but its not always necessary. Personally I think Frawley is unlikely to displace Crowley as first choice 10, but his ability to play 12 and 15 means he’s pretty much guaranteed to hold down a spot on the bench, and should get a decent amount of minutes either at the end of games or starting when there are injuries. I think Willemse is in a similar boat. Feinberg-Mngomezulu possibly could become a regular starter at 10 for the Springboks, but he might not, given he’d have to displace Libbok and Pollard. I think its best not to put all your eggs in one basket - Osbourne played so well at the weekend that he will hopefully be trusted with the 15 shirt for the autumn at least, but if things hadn’t gone well for him he could have bided his time until an opportunity opened up at centre. Similarly Feinberg-Mngomezulu is likely to get a few opportunities at 15 in the coming months due to le Roux’s age and Willemse’s injury, but given SA don’t have a single centre aged under 30 its likely that opportunities could also open up at 12 if he keeps playing there for Stormers. None of this will discount him from being given gametime at 10 - in the last RWC cycle Rassie gave a start at 10 to Frans Steyn, and even gave de Klerk minutes there off the bench - but it will give him far more opportunities for first team rugby.

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