Why doubt remains over new All Blacks coach
OPINION: Hamish Bidwell looks at why there is still suspicion over Ian Foster’s appointment as All Blacks head coach.
Ian Foster must be cursing COVID-19.
In case you missed it, Foster was a very unpopular choice as All Blacks head coach. So unpopular that, if you believe a recent player poll, even they aren’t too enthused about him or his staff.
In an ideal world, Foster would be three tests into his tenure by now. Three tests – two against Wales and one against Scotland – that you assume would have provided him with a winning start to life in charge.
Instead, the tentative opening of the test rugby window is scheduled for October 24, with preliminary plans in place for New Zealand to host the entire Rugby Championship during November and December.
None of that’s over the line, of course, meaning no one’s really had a chance to come to terms with the fact Foster really is the All Blacks’ coach.
Even all these months on, it seems hard to comprehend that New Zealand Rugby (NZR) could actually appoint the guy.
Surely this is the most sought-after job in world rugby and one fit for only the finest applicants. With all due respect to Foster, it’s still hard not to feel there were better options out there.
The suspension of test rugby hasn’t helped him, though.
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It was only the other week when former All Blacks coach Steve Hansen was quoted on a variety of issues, including the state of Australian rugby. Scribes everywhere leapt upon those comments and there were the inevitable longbows drawn suggesting New Zealand rugby folk are insufferably smug and arrogant.
Overlooked in all that was Foster. Perhaps emboldened by the words of his old boss, he piped up too. The difference was no one really took umbrage.
The issue there is one of standing. Hansen has plenty and Foster very little and that won’t change until he can coax two or three years worth of emphatic performances from the men in the black.
In the meantime, though, the man is scarcely relevant.
Again, the cancellation of this month’s tests against Wales and Scotland hasn’t helped.
In the absence of test footy, Super Rugby Aotearoa has further underlined what a fine job Scott Robertson does as coach of the Crusaders.
Rain, hail or shine, the players in that team continually produce performances their fans can be proud of. Most of the time those performances translate into wins too.
A story surfaced recently suggesting Robertson rather baffled the panel trying to pick between he and Foster for the All Blacks’ coaching job last year.
First of all, many people end up confused after talking to Robertson. Whether by accident or design, the man isn’t the easiest to get a straight answer from.
But the Crusaders’ players seem to understand him all right and surely they’re the only people that matter.
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More important, though, is this idea that presentations to panels matter. That a coach should be judged not on his record, but on the way he interviews for a job.
Robertson didn’t inherit a Crusaders franchise in rude health. There’d been a gradual decline under Todd Blackadder, so the results in the three and a bit years since speak volumes for Robertson and his methods.
Players and coaches have come and gone, but the outcomes have always stayed the same.
That’s the difficulty for Foster. People think Robertson is a good coach because that belief is borne out in the Crusaders’ results week after week, year after year.
Foster hasn’t been afforded that luxury yet, that chance to prove there was more to his appointment than cronyism and succession planning. That he can emerge from Hansen’s shadow and show us all he’s worthy of the role he inherited.
Unfortunately, the longer it takes to get test rugby back on the schedule, the longer the suspicion will persist that the wrong man was given charge of the All Blacks.
By Hamish Bidwell, Rugbypass