Is it time to finally go for New Zealand’s Ian Foster?

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At the end of July, following Ireland’s historic 2-1 series victory over New Zealand — the first ever Irish series win in the Oceanian country and the first by any visiting team since the French achieved it in 1994 — I wrote an article for Palatinate calling for New Zealand’s Head Coach, Ian Foster, to be sacked if the All Blacks were to have any chance of winning the 2023 Rugby World Cup.

New Zealand Rugby, however, stuck to their guns. Not only did they not sack Foster, but the board also confirmed they had “complete faith” in his ability to lead the team through to the next World Cup. I assert that they were wrong to do so.

Since that point, Foster’s failings have become ever more apparent. Briefly, my previous criticisms of New Zealand were that they appeared lacklustre and unable to defend when faced with a side deploying a gameplan heavily based on constant hard carrying supported by a well-executed kick game designed to pin them into their own half.

The Ireland series loss also showed the All Blacks to be naïve in attack and prone to debilitating disciplinary lapses. None of these problems have been addressed, as shown clearly by last weekend’s (27th August) 25-18 defeat to Argentina in Christchurch, the first time ever Argentina have won on New Zealand soil, and only their second ever win over the All Blacks.

The Ireland series loss showed the All Blacks to be naïve in attack and prone to debilitating disciplinary lapses

New Zealand could not find a way to unlock Argentina’s resolute and aggressive defence, thus showing the All Blacks’ attacking naivety; Moreover, they were ground down by a brutal display of forward carrying backed up by an excellent tactical kicking display from Argentina flyhalf Santiago Carreras. To add salt to the open wounds, Emiliano Boffelli kicked the Kiwis to defeat with his six penalties brought about by the aforementioned debilitating disciplinary lapses.

The reason I choose to criticise Ian Foster for New Zealand’s issues is that one All Blacks defeat might be the result of a magnificent opposing performance. A couple could be explained away as a short bad run or two off days. Such issues would be easily rectifiable.

But when the defeats start piling up over a long timeframe, certainly stretching back to the 2021 November Internationals, and, arguably, even further back — with root issues evident in defeats such as their first ever loss to Argentina in November 2020 — it starts to look like New Zealand are suffering from wider structural issues.

Given that all the defeats appear to be occurring in the same way, it becomes even more apparent that New Zealand have been found out and need a radical change to their gameplan, if they want to start winning again. As Head Coach, responsibility for devising and implementing a gameplan falls on Ian Foster.

As Head Coach Foster bears overall responsibility for developing team structure, he must carry the can

He has not, so far, done so and currently appears unlikely to ever fulfil this obvious obligation. Whether he realises the need for change and simply cannot successfully put over his ideas to the players or does not recognise that his methods are not working is irrelevant. His methods are not working, and so, for the sake of New Zealand Rugby, he must be replaced by someone whose might.

It is cruel to blame the All Blacks’ issues on the coach alone, given that many key players — such as captain Sam Cane and fullback Jordie Barrett — have encountered slumps in personal form, whilst Foster has also had to contend with an injury list featuring such luminaries as 95-test-cap lock Brodie Retallick, normally the beating heart of the All Black pack.

However, given the main issue with this team appears to be structural and, as Head Coach, Foster bears overall responsibility for developing team structure; he must carry the can. This would allow a new coach, such as Scott Robertson or Joe Schmidt, to come in, implement new playing structures and then work out which players are underperforming within them and must be dropped.

Such a move, I firmly believe, is the only way forward for New Zealand if they wish to return to the exalted heights expected of them by the Kiwi public and have a realistic shot of winning the next World Cup.

Image: www.davidmolloyphotography.com via Flickr

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