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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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