Foster opens up on Joe Schmidt's role in All Blacks camp
SPOTLIGHT: Ian Foster and the All Blacks have been the subjects of intense criticism after falling to their maiden series loss at the hands of Ireland – their first home series defeat since 1994.
Having lost four of their last five Tests, the All Blacks are now in a worst-ever World Rugby ranking of fourth, leading to week-long speculation about Foster’s future at the helm of the national side.
However, the man in question has been retained by New Zealand Rugby [NZR] following “robust” conversations with chief executive Mark Robinson, who last Sunday described the All Blacks’ recent results as “not acceptable”.
Despite that, Foster has kept his post as All Blacks head coach, and fronted media after an extremely turbulent week since last Saturday’s groundbreaking defeat in Wellington.
Conceding that the All Blacks fell well short of the mark against Ireland, Foster acknowledged the frustrations of the New Zealand public in light of his side’s recent results.
Those frustrations fuelled calls for not only Foster to be axed by NZR, but also his assistant coaches John Plumtree, Brad Mooar, Scott McLeod and Greg Feek.
While Foster has remained, he admitted changes will be made “very soon”, although the head coach was tight-lipped about what those exact alterations will be as work continues to be undertaken in that respect behind closed doors.
Instead, Foster vowed to make New Zealand fans proud when the All Blacks open their Rugby Championship campaign with two tests against the Springboks in South Africa early next month.
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“We never are happy when we don’t achieve what we want to achieve,” Foster said shortly after the announcement of his 36-man squad for the Rugby Championship.
“We understand the fans aren’t happy with that, but you have a promise that we are looking forward to getting stuck into our work when we get together, to go and play in this Rugby Championship, and in South Africa, a game of rugby that New Zealanders can be proud of and this team.”
“I’ve also heard that there does need to be some change, and for us to achieve that. Right now, I am working behind the scenes to achieve that.
“You can ask me a hundred times what that is and I won’t be able to give you that answer just yet.
“I’d like you to bear with me, but we’ve got things in place right now, and as soon as I can let you know a couple of changes, I will let you know as soon as possible.
“Like I said, this All Black team is very proud. We’re very proud of playing for this country.
“We know that we didn’t get what we needed again out of the Steinlager Series, and I know what our country should expect of this team is that we go away, we identify the key focuses, and we go ahead and fix it and we play at the level that we want to play to.
“We’d love you to be proud of us, and we want to make sure we do everything can to do that.”
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Foster added that while the unsuccessful series forced him to reflect on his role as All Blacks head coach, he never considered walking away from the job.
“As a head coach, there’s been a lot of questions that the last couple of weeks. Let me tell you who I am. I’m strong. I’m resilient. I think I’ve proven that,” he said.
“I believe I’ve got a great feel and relationship with my players, I’m strategic and I’m also accountable, and I take that on board.
“I promise you I understand that, and I’m really excited about the chance to show you what this team is made of working alongside the players in this squad.”
Foster revealed that the new squad – which features minimal changes from the team that faced Ireland – was selected by himself, Plumtree and new selector Joe Schmidt, who has begun full-time work with the All Blacks as Grant Fox’s successor.
Plumtree’s contribution as a squad selector is a strong indication that he will survive the incoming changes to the national coaching group that Foster alluded to.
No change will be made to Schmidt’s role as All Blacks selector, though, as Foster dispelled any rumours that the former Ireland boss will assume a more prominent role within the backroom staff.
“Joe Schmidt is now officially joined us in his role. There’s lots of talk about Joe’s role, but Joe’s role is as was flagged six months ago,” Foster said.
“He’s come in as an independent selector. He also has a secondary role of being an opposition analysis for me, like an opposition head coach, and he is working with me behind the scenes on the strategic areas that we feel we need to move.
“Excited to have him on board. He’s not travelling with us [to South Africa], so we’re clear, and – at this stage – hasn’t got an on-the-field role, but he is working hard with me, particularly, on the strategic area of our game.”
#SquadAnnouncement: Some big decisions as Foster reveals his squad ahead of their trip to South Africa 👇#RugbyChampionship #NewZealand #AllBlacks #SouthAfrica #Springboks https://t.co/GCFEZIlVFb
— rugby365.com (@rugby365com) July 22, 2022
Among the major talking points of the new squad announcement is the retention of Sam Cane as All Blacks captain, a decision made in spite of media reports which stated he was in line to lose that title.
Nevertheless, Cane has Foster’s full support to continue his role as leader of the All Blacks and drive the national side to improved results and performances.
“I believe in him. I believe in him as a person, as a leader,” Foster said of Cane.
“I think the easiest thing to do when a series doesn’t go your way is to point the finger and blame and want people’s neck.
“I’ve got a lot faith in Sam as a player and as a person, and in the leadership group around him.
“That same group that we are talking about has been part of the same conversations we’ve had, and we all know that there’s a high degree of accountability when we put on an All Blacks jersey, and we need to be better.”