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'We'll all be in for a helluva journey': Ex-All Blacks legend weighs in on coaching debate

May the best man win.

That is the view of former All Blacks lock and SKY TV rugby analyst Ian Jones as we count down to the (probable) announcement next week of the new All Blacks coaching team.

Despite 26 coaches being shoulder-tapped to apply for the vacant position, it appears it is now a two-horse race between 2012-19 All Blacks assistant coach Ian Foster and 2017-19 Super Rugby-winning Crusaders coach Scott Robertson.

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“Ultimately, I’ll back whoever gets the job. I played with Fozzie at the Chiefs and with Razor at the All Blacks. I’m adamant that I’ll support whoever it is 100 percent,” says Jones.

“You’ve got the established, the status quo, with Fozzie. He’s a details man. The players know where they stand with him and the direction they are heading. It looks like the team he is putting together is New Zealand to the core.

“On the flip side, Steve Hansen told us that Foster was coaching at the peak of his powers and yet we got spanked by England. If he’s at the top of his game, is he going to improve? That might be a wake-up call. Hansen’s record was amazing, but you need to look at the last two years from the Lions tour. What did we learn from the losses and how did we improve? Foster was part of all that.”

Robertson represents the new breed with a new broom. The last time New Zealand Rugby made a clean break with the previous regime was in 2003-04 when Graham Henry ousted John Mitchell.

“He will bring a new direction and purpose. That’s exciting for the public, because this is New Zealand’s team, not just the union’s. NZR is a conservative lot historically and they haven’t often deviated from that status quo. If it’s Razor, then we’ll all be in for a helluva journey, and that will be exciting too,” says Jones.

He acknowledged the importance of having the right running mates. Failure to nail down that detail cost Robbie Deans when he applied for the All Blacks job in 2007. Scott McLeod, who did sterling work with the All Blacks’ defence in 2019, will surely feature in the thoughts of either Foster or Robertson.

“I don’t have the inside oil on who Razor’s running mates are, but there was talk of Ronan O’Gara. Mick Byrne’s been a resource coach for the All Blacks in the past and no disrespect to O’Gara, who’s clearly a very good coach, but do we need a non-New Zealander among the coaches?”

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It’s a fair question.

Jones does not see anything abnormal in having 26 original candidates whittled down to two credible contenders. Several withdrew from the running, of course.

“I was excited by the potential of Jamie Joseph and Tony Brown, but that didn’t pan out. That hard-nosed directness of Jamie and the inventiveness of Brown might have been a good fit. The option of Razor to change direction might be a good thing, but it will come down to who his team is.”

“Calling on several candidates to apply is the way they’ve always done it. Back in the day, they always contacted all the NPC coaches to apply. When Brad Meurant was with North Harbour, he was flown down to Wellington for an interview. I don’t criticise them for shoulder-tapping all the people they have, because you never know until you ask sometimes.”

Jones played under three All Blacks coaches – Alex ‘Grizz’ Wyllie, Laurie Mains and John Hart. The latter was knocked back three times before finally ascending to the position in 1996, the right man to lead the All Blacks into the professional age. But he missed out in 1987, 1991 and again in 1994, when he challenged Mains after a mediocre All Blacks’ season.

The issue of senior player consultation is an interesting one and Jones has firm views on that.

“I was never asked my opinion as a senior player when they were choosing a new coach. I don’t know if you should be, either. Human nature dictates that you say what suits you the best. Coach A picked me and knows my style, so of course I’ll go with him every day of the week. It puts the players in an awkward position. At the end of the day, it’s an employment situation and you don’t get to pick who your boss is going to be,” says Jones.

“Having said that, input from departing senior players (such as Kieran Read and Ben Smith) and management will be crucial,” says Jones.

Interviews are expected to take place next week in Wellington.

In other news:

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'We'll all be in for a helluva journey': Ex-All Blacks legend weighs in on coaching debate
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