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Why Scott Robertson must be brought in immediately if the All Blacks cut Ian Foster

By Alex McLeod
(Photos / Getty Images)

A former Crusaders star has given his old boss Scott Robertson a vote of confidence as the All Blacks head coach role comes under scrutiny in the wake of New Zealand’s loss to Ireland.

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Speculation continues to swirl about the future of incumbent All Blacks boss Ian Foster after he led the national side to a historic series defeat at the hands of Ireland last weekend.

The series loss, which saw the Irish claim their first two victories in New Zealand, was the first time the All Blacks had suffered a series defeat on home shores since they were whitewashed by France across two tests in 1994.

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Ardie Savea and Dane Coles speak to media after All Blacks loss to Ireland
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Ardie Savea and Dane Coles speak to media after All Blacks loss to Ireland

Having now lost four of his last five tests at the helm of the All Blacks, resulting in their worst-ever World Rugby ranking of fourth, Foster faces enormous public pressure to leave his post.

That pressure was accentuated on Sunday when New Zealand Rugby [NZR] chief executive Mark Robinson issued a statement saying recent results were “not acceptable” and that the national governing body is undertaking a review into the Ireland series.

The outcome of that review is expected to be released on Wednesday, less than three weeks before the All Blacks open their Rugby Championship campaign with two tests against the Springboks in South Africa.

While many have called for Foster and his management team to go once that review has concluded, some see the time between then and the first test between the All Blacks and Springboks on August 6 as too short to make wholesale changes to New Zealand’s backroom staff.

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That was the view held by Sky Sport presenter Ross Karl, who suggested that incoming All Blacks selector Joe Schmidt could take over from Foster as a supervising coach for the Rugby Championship.

Speaking on the Aotearoa Rugby Pod, Karl said that would give Robertson – the highly-successful Crusaders boss – more preparation time to assume the head coach role ahead of the end-of-year tour.

However, former Crusaders halfback Bryn Hall said he has “no question in my mind” that Robertson would make an immediate impact on the All Blacks if he replaced Foster ahead of the Springboks tests.

“He’s proven that he can do that,” Hall, who won six straight Super Rugby titles under Robertson during his time at the Crusaders between 2017 and 2022, told the Aotearoa Rugby Pod.

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“If you look at [ex-Crusaders head coach Todd] Blackadder, my first time when I came down, we had the talent in the five or six years that Todd was coaching, and we weren’t able to get the job done.

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“A year later, Razor [Robertson] comes in with selection and being able to bring those guys together, it’s an experienced group we had at the time, and we were able to win a championship because he instilled things that were able to change the mindset to get the best out of his players.

“If you’re going to do that decision [replace Foster with Robertson], give him as much time… if he gets given that opportunity, I’ve got no question in my mind that he’ll be able to get the best out of his players because he’s done it.

“He’s done it at Crusaders level, he’s done it at U20s level, and at Mitre 10 Cup level.

“If there’s one guy that you can do with a less amount of preparation time, I think Razor will be one guy that I feel pretty confident that he’ll be able to get the job done.”

Despite missing out to Foster in the race to replace Sir Steve Hansen as All Blacks head coach after the 2019 World Cup, Robertson has enjoyed a large swell of public support after his constant success with various teams.

In addition to his six Super Rugby titles, Robertson led New Zealand a World U20 Championship in 2015, and won eight NPC titles – either as a head or assistant coach – during his nine seasons with Canterbury between 2008 and 2016.

During that time, Robertson has worked alongside numerous different coaches, which Hall – who has left the Crusaders to join the Shizuoka Blue Revs in Japan – highlighted as a major strength of his former boss.

“One thing that he does really well, and he’s proven, he’s done it with different coaching groups within his ranks,” Hall told the Aotearoa Rugby Pod.

“He’s done it with Leon MacDonald, he’s done it with Brad Mooar, he had Mark Jones from Wales, he’s had Ronan O’Gara, Scott Hansen’s there now, Andrew Goodman, so he’s pretty good around the people that he brings into the environment.

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“He can coach with them, and what he does really well, he understands his weaknesses, what he’s not great at, and the coaches that he has there are then being able to then fill in what he’s not great at.

“When you’ve got that kind of coaching group that collectively – I can only speak from my experience at the Crusaders – collectively the coaching group, they’re all on the same page.

“When you’re on the same page, giving the same messages and going in the same direction, it leads into results like we had in the last six years with the Crusaders.”

In saying that, Hall said it will be vital that whoever is backed by NZR to carry out the role of All Blacks head coach – whether that be Foster, Robertson or someone else – between now and next year’s World Cup receives as much support as possible.

“I think it’s important for Fozzie [Foster] and the coaching group, if that’s the direction they’re going to go, then let’s support the hell out of them and give them everything that they need to go out and win a World Cup,” he said.

“If it’s not, if they feel they need to go in a different direction that’s Razor and his coaching group to be able to come in and try change things, I think it’s important that decision has to be made pretty quickly.

“We can’t afford to do the Rugby Championship and the come to the backend of that, going into the end-of-year tour, still having these questions around having doubt.

“It’s no good for Fozzie and his coaching group, and it’s no good for the players to have that doubt hanging over them.

“Whether that will be the case, I’m not too sure. We’ll probably find out pretty soon, but whatever direction they do go, they need to be able to support that coaching system and players.”

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