One of the greatest rugby brains New Zealand has ever produced has come out in defence of new All Blacks coach Ian Foster and captain Sam Cane.
Wayne Smith, who was an assistant coach with the All Blacks for both their 2011 and 2015 World Cup triumphs, has implored fans to have some empathy for Foster and Cane during the “difficult times” the New Zealand national side are currently experiencing.
In a message to the NZ Herald, Smith has given his take on the All Blacks’ current predicament. The two wins, one loss and two draws that new head coach Foster and new captain Cane have led their side to is the worst-ever opening five matches for a new All Blacks coach.
“These are difficult times for Ian and Sam,” Smith wrote. “One of the greatest eras in All Blacks history has ended on the back of McCaw, Carter, Woodcock, Muliaina, Mealamu, Nonu, Smith, Kaino et al retiring. Most of them centurions; all greats of our game.
“This is a cycle – it’s happened before and will happen again. There are future greats of our game in this current All Blacks team. Yes, there are mistakes being made, both on and off the field.
“A couple of losses amplifies those. That doesn’t mean these blokes are no good. I hear often that Ian Foster was unsuccessful as Chiefs coach – by the way, he led the Chiefs to a final and a semi – but this criticism doesn’t allow for continual learning, for getting better with age and experience.
“Tough times are always needed to create success. The All Blacks are going through these at the moment. I’m pretty sure that this team will come through these like those before them and new legends will be forged.”
All Blacks fans have become accustomed to seeing their side emerge victorious week after week and those expectations haven’t changed despite the transition from one coaching legacy to another.
The rest of the world have also slowly caught up with New Zealand over the last decade – not necessarily because the All Blacks are doing anything wrong.
“There are so many ways you can play, so many variables and ever-changing law interpretations,” said Smith. “Given that, there is invariably a need for debate. Sometimes, conflict occurs. The All Blacks have an overriding philosophy of ‘disagree and commit’ when decisions are made. The captain and coach aren’t working alone in this.
“To bring all this together is difficult. It takes time. It takes courage to confront norms, make changes, stick your neck out. It often doesn’t work, and you get poor results. Then, as [All Blacks mental skills coach] Gilbert Enoka often says, you adapt, adjust and overcome.”
Smith himself experienced some tough times with the All Blacks during a short stint as head coach from 2000 to 2001. He was also on hand when New Zealand fell to their worst-ever World Cup finish in 2007.
— RugbyPass (@RugbyPass) November 18, 2020
Smith and his fellow coaches were all apportioned blame for the losses, but the coach has tried to remind fans that professional rugby players and coaches are people too and should be treated with empathy.
“As Sam Cane said the other day, captaining and coaching the All Blacks can be brutal if results don’t go your way, or you are perceived to be ‘not up to it’,” Smith said.
“There is always a frenzy of social media and journalistic activity. That’s life. I’ve been through it. It takes huge self-belief and resilience to withstand it and carry on.
“What critics need to remember is that you are talking about good people. Everyone on this earth has a talent. Sam’s and Ian Foster’s talents aren’t any more special than others who you pass on the street, but they are certainly more recognisable and measurable.”
Following the 2011 World Cup win in New Zealand, Smith helped the Chiefs secure back-to-back Super Rugby titles, before re-joining the All Blacks ahead of the 2015 competition.
The former All Blacks flyhalf now works in Japan as the Kobelco Steelers director of rugby.
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