Barely a year after the Rugby World Cup, the All Blacks are in crisis. Not just a mini-crisis or some kind of crisis, but a full-blown catastrophe.
On Monday morning, they are likely to be without a coach as South Africa are set to ring the death knell for the Ian Foster era at Saturday’s rugby championship match at Ellis Park – in a proclamation that would have seemed unthinkable for most in the country’s rugby history defeat of New Zealand inevitable.
With just 13 months to go before they face France in the opening game of the World Cup in Paris, they will almost certainly begin the hunt for a man to take them there. And if they aren’t, then the most absurdly optimistic All Blacks fan would have to believe that all but disaster awaits at the global flagship.
Almost poetically, France has become the antithesis of this iteration of the All Blacks – a stylish, dynamic team with a clear attacking structure, fielded by a world-class coaching staff with a clear, cohesive vision, and executed by a crowd of world-class players buying into the project have and whose maximum limit has not yet been reached.
In contrast, New Zealand have lost five of their last six games, are at a record low fifth in the world rankings, suffered a first home defeat in the Test series since 1994 when Ireland beat them last month and just suffered their heaviest loss against South Africa for 94 years last weekend. And frankly, the fact that the scoreboard read only 26-10 at the final whistle flattered the All Blacks. Foster has the lowest win rate of any All Blacks coach since the 1970s, and legitimate debates over whether captain Sam Cane would make the starting XI of a Tier 1 Northern Hemisphere side have surfaced on podcasts.
There will be plenty of time to examine the general malaise. From the complete erosion of trust between New Zealand rugby and the players, only exacerbated by the recently signed controversial $200 million deal with US-based private equity firm Silver Lake, to the ever declining results from their youth teams and whether the appointment of a relatively untested continuity candidate from the Steve Hansen era in Foster, when the Hansen machine was already showing signs of cracks towards the end of his tenure, made any sense at all. But the more immediate problems are on the field.
They have no discernible plan of attack, or at least none that shows signs of effectiveness, with every success over the last 18 months invariably attributable to the individual brilliance of one of their few remaining world-class operators like Beauden Barrett, Will Jordan or Ardie Savea.
Against the Springboks, the All Blacks demonstrated a litany of problems last weekend. They failed to deal with the aerial bombardment – illustrated no better than by Kurt-Lee Arendse’s attempt to open – they were dominated in the collapse and at scrum time by both the South African starters and their ‘bomb squad’ from the first Row wiped out by the bench. A lack of attack cohesion left Barrett’s tricks and line breaks as the only type of platform to build on. The fly half’s reward for being a rare, steady shining light during the last dark times? Demoted to the bench this weekend as Richie Mo’unga prefers to pull the strings in 10th place.
Foster’s analysis immediately afterwards was probably even more worrying: “We are bitterly disappointed, but I had the feeling that it was our best performance this year,” said the coach, to the amazement of almost everyone who watched the game. He cited the improved defense and increased competition off the line compared to the Ireland series as positives, but that was cold consolation at best.
Earlier this week, the New Zealand Herald – the largest newspaper in the country and generally a decent mood maker – ran a front-page editorial calling for Foster’s firing. “A decent man who is overwhelmed in a brutal business,” he said herald claimed in an article headlined “It’s time for a change.” A sobering disappointment and a timely reminder that the Land of the Long White Cloud men’s national rugby team is more likely to be found on the front page than the back, meaning things are likely to have reached a turning point for Foster now.
New Zealand Rugby chief executive Mark Robinson recently refused to guarantee the managerial position beyond the two games against South Africa, and with last weekend there being nothing to suggest but another Springboks win on Saturday hinted at in Johannesburg, attention will almost certainly turn to who can lead them out of this predicament in just 13 months?
There is no doubt that the All Blacks can still change their fortunes at France 2023. You only have to look at their opponents this weekend to find the latest evidence of a team turning tack on the cusp of a World Championship – the Springboks coming out of rock bottom to win the 2019 edition. But even that doesn’t bode well Good for Foster, as a change of coach was required – and that ended the tenure of Allister Coetzee, who oversaw similar historic lows in South African rugby as the 57-year-old is currently for New Zealand, some 18 months before the tournament and bringing in Rassie Erasmus – at bring about a reversal of fate.
The All Blacks are in crisis mode and Foster appears to be sacrificed to avert the impending catastrophe.
https://www.independent.co.uk/sport/rugby/rugby-union/new-zealand-all-blacks-ian-foster-south-africa-rugby-championship-b2143818.html Rugby Championship preview: Springboks poised to usher in Ian Foster’s era for the All Blacks