All Blacks head coach role assured for Ian Foster until RWC2023

All Blacks head coach role assured for Ian Foster until RWC2023
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Even if it might not quell the external noises, the All Blacks head coach role has been assured to incumbent Ian Foster until the Rugby World Cup in France.

That ‘noise’ had reached a crescendo on Friday, August 12, the day before the second Rugby Championship test in Johannesburg. Media attention was abundant, right across the rugby globe. It appeared to be a fait-accompli yet the attitude, playing groups’ strength, and indeed the commanding performance on the field, prevailed over any and all disparaging innuendo.

Now, returned from South Africa holding high the Freedom Cup, Ian Foster brought his reaffirmed state of confidence to a closed-doors meeting with New Zealand Rugby (NZR) chief executive Mark Robinson (see above photo). In that revision of the head coaches state of mind; including input from his management group and – it must be presumed – senior players.

The result of that meeting, and a congregation of the NZR board members in Wellington, produced a firm endorsement of the All Blacks head coach position. Foster will continue untainted until the 2023 tournament in France.

Had opinions changed so much in the last week alone? Or was the tide of public opinion changed to a degree that NZR might have seemed unfair to cast adrift a coach who turned his team’s fortunes? The latter may have been more apparent, with the 23-35 win being a ‘saving grace’ for both coach and players [if the poor results had continued].

All Blacks head coach role assured for Ian Foster until RWC2023

Is opinion the criteria to retain a head coach position? Should it be any reason to remove them? No, even when the public may provide enough evidence of divided opinion and interpretation. Such is the increased media attention plus the impressionable social media content, Ian Foster was becoming famous more for his low winning ratio, than for any merit or ability to direct a large squad over a prolonged period.

The latter again was a reason for some to question back in July, that his term should end because of the Irish rugby Summer Series loss. Dropping two straight games, his position traveling to the republic was tenuous, to say the least. Some obituaries were being assembled, journalists going so far as to say ‘Foster finished’ and leading NZ Herald opinion such as ‘why Ian Foster should go the morning after’.

Foster himself seemed unsure from the time he left, until the time he landed. Many times, the coach is quoted as saying he had “no idea” if he had the backing of NZR. Seen as avoidance by some, the CEO even traveled with the side to Africa, being a constant reminder after the failed opening Test, before it must have been some awkward handshakes soon after last weekend’s rebound win.

Robinson said the All Blacks’ scenario had been “a unique moment in time, a real hotspot. We are drawing a line under that now. We’ve made a really strong commitment and set out our stall around what we think is the best for this organization and the team and we get in behind it.’’

Headlines now read “Safe” and underline his position as ‘retaining both the endorsement of the team after Ellis Park, and the confirmation by his superiors – all as one other candidate was tantalizingly close to being installed in situ.

Scott Robertson left ‘adrift’ by NZR endorsement of Foster

As important as the announcement that the All Blacks head coach was affirmed until 2023, the other candidate is now left somewhat ‘adrift’. Maybe a reach, as that individual Scott Robertson is a fulltime head coach for the Crusaders franchise. What is his perception of today’s judgment? How might it now influence the journey of that individual who has spoken of his desire to coach on the International stage?

It is bound to upset his supporters more so than the iconic Razor. He could literally look up, say “it’s awesome for Fozzy and the All Blacks” because the character of Robertson is fully behind a jersey he wore proudly. That finite relationship has only included a small number of men; few of them journalists or external observers. It means he has an attachment to the side’s own culture. And he would always want the best for the side, no matter his personal ambitions.

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From this point on, it is just how the media pursue his description of the situation. Robertson will hardly sidestep the issue, so when he speaks about it, those words will be widely promoted. Like any vanquished candidate, their comments are valid on how he might have felt being so closely associated with a possible position of All Blacks head coach. But it was only ever possible; as Robertson was not judged the right man for the role in 2020.

What some observers, maybe even including the passed-over Robertson, might feel was unpleasant about this phase of the All Blacks story. Acrimonious, certainly undermined by themes and sub-plots [North vs South] and there have been assistant coach changes that recently appeared to be player-driven.

Player intuition, squad personnel interchange, and the feeling that insiders and observing executive staff found has driven the call the ‘retain the current employee’. Foster is safe until the last match of the Rugby World Cup 2023. Whether that be the Cup final or a losing quarter-final knockout game, the overall framing of this head coach’s place in New Zealand Rugby history is tied to that outcome.

No longer a weekly examination that had an overriding threat of sudden loss of employment.

It’s fair that one will feel pleased, and the other will not. Foster even explained so when he said at the press conference, “I feel good about the confidence that I’ve got from Mark [Robinson] and Stewart [Mitchell, NZR Chairman], in terms of supporting both myself and the group. We’ve got our leadership and senior players at a point [that’s] probably as strong as I’ve seen them in recent years.

“They want to own it, and that’s a massive point of where we need to go. So they’re pretty good foundation points.”

View the 2022 Rugby Championship upcoming schedules here.

 

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