'Not all doom and gloom': Foster hits back at critics
IN THE SPOTLIGHT: All Blacks head coach Ian Foster has acknowledged the backlash from fans across New Zealand after his side finished its worst season since 2009.
After back-to-back season-ending defeats at the hands of Ireland and France, the All Blacks finished their 2021 campaign with 12 wins and three losses, with the other defeat coming against the Springboks in the final match of the Rugby Championship.
As a result, the Kiwi public have overwhelmingly voiced their opposition against Foster, who signed a two-year contract extension with New Zealand Rugby in August in a deal that will see him stay in charge of the All Blacks until the 2023 World Cup.
Speaking on The Breakdown earlier this week, Foster said that he is aware of his critics and those who have taken aim at his side.
“It’s been disappointing and we kind of know the reaction of our fans and everyone when we don’t get a win. I think in both games we really struggled to get going on in the first half,” he said.
“If you looked at [Sunday], we enabled a French team to get a lot of early momentum against us. It was an amazing environment; the crowd got right behind it and got really passionate, and it became hard to handle after that for a while.”
In spite of the All Blacks’ 25-40 loss to France – their first defeat in Paris since 1973 – Foster was impressed by some aspects of his side’s gameplay.
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“The positive thing about last night is that was we came right back into it and I thought, in that third quarter, we really played the way that we really wanted to play against them,” he said.
“We imposed ourselves with our ball carrying, particularly up the middle, and created some opportunities. We just weren’t quite good enough in the end to lock that away.
“We’ve had two teams that have been waiting for us and it’s probably at the end of our season and they were fresh and had really targeted that game. It just showed that they’re good quality teams and we’re going to have to be our best to beat them.”
The former Waikato and Chiefs boss, who served as Sir Steve Hansen’s assistant at the All Blacks between 2012 and 2019, added that the New Zealanders were forced to deal with difficult circumstances during their exhaustive three-month tour.
Due to travel restrictions brought on by Covid-19, the All Blacks spent 12 weeks abroad, during which time they played 10 tests in six countries across three different continents.
However, they were mostly confined to their own bubble as a precaution while travelling during the pandemic, and Foster the fatigue of touring under those conditions caught up with the Kiwis in their final two matches against Ireland and France.
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“I get the fact that people are upset that we lost two games, and it’s hard to explain the circumstances that we’ve been in,” he said.
“I don’t want to be coming across as if we’re giving excuses for that, but you know this has been a remarkably difficult year in many ways.
“Having 12-13 weeks on the road in hotels and quarantines, we’ve had two lots of five consecutive test matches in a row and we’ve really run out of steam in the last two.
“I think there are some massive positives there, there are some frustrating negatives, and we’ve got to look at why particularly we didn’t start those last two tests well in those first 20 minutes because we allowed both teams to dictate to us and it made it really hard to wrestle momentum back.”
Despite that, Foster said he remained proud of his squad for persevering through what could have been a difficult time abroad while playing teams that he suggested were considerably bigger threats than they have been in the past.
“Some teams have played not enough rugby. England, Ireland and France haven’t really played anything in that July window. France played Australia but they left a lot of their players behind,” Foster said when asked if the balance of power in world rugby has shifted from the southern hemisphere to the north.
“You’ve got the southern hemisphere teams who have probably ended up playing too much rugby in this Covid and quarantine world.
“If you look at it, Argentina really struggled this year with the amount of travel they had. South Africa ended up losing five tests, Australia lost seven tests and we ended up losing three tests out of 15.
“I don’t believe it’s all doom and gloom. I’m actually really proud of what this group’s done on this tour.
“It’s been an absolutely unique time. It’s been three months of a largely hotel base, we’ve had a larger squad. We’ve ended up having to rotate our squad more just for the health of the group.
“Short-term that probably hurt a bit. Long-term, I think it’s going to build us some really good depth and options, but, clearly, I think the northern hemisphere teams, in this particular window in 2021, were a lot fresher than the southern hemisphere teams.”
Ultimately, though, Foster is dismissing the criticism coming his way as he prepares for his end-of-year review and aims for more progression in 2022.
“I know everyone bays for blood at times like this. It’s the nature of the job, but our goal is to make sure we’ve got the right plan going forward to do well in the World Cup, ” he told The Breakdown.
“It’s like with the All Blacks, it’s not just about winning the World Cup. In fact, a lot of the criticism coming now is based on you lose a couple of tests and people start to panic a little bit and start to feel that the team is losing their way.
“But, if I look at the bigger picture and think, we’ve won a lot of tests this year, we’re developing a number of players, we’re changing a few things on the park, we’ve been living in a hotel together for three months, then I think we’re going to use the base of what we’ve achieved this year from a team culture and environment to really push through and do well.
“For us and as an All Blacks coach, I’m always accountable, but every test is important, so it’s not just about building for the World Cup, it’s about getting next year right.”