Ian Foster will coach the All Blacks through to the 2023 World Cup after New Zealand Rugby moved to end uncertainty over the team’s leadership.
Joe Schmidt will also be given an official, hands-on role within the set-up following Saturday’s 35-23 victory over South Africa in Johannesburg.
The former Ireland head coach will focus on the side’s attack ahead of upcoming home matches against Argentina on August 27 and September 3.
The NZR board voted unanimously to keep Foster, who had lost five of his last six Tests in charge prior to the weekend. That was despite Mark Robinson, the organisation’s chief executive, declining to give his backing to the status quo in the wake of the win against the Springboks.
Foster admitted that he was in the dark over his immediate future in post-match interviews at Ellis Park but voiced his satisfaction on Thursday morning, hours after hearing that he would be retained.
“It's a privilege to be in this job and it’s never something you take for granted,” he said. “No doubt it's been a hard time but you’ve got to be in the here and now. I’m a key catalyst for that and I’m delighted to be here.”
New Zealand were infinitely more convincing in their latest outing, opening up a 15-0 lead in the first half before staving off a fight-back from the hosts with two more late tries through David Havili and Scott Barrett.
South Africa had forged ahead 23-21 with 12 minutes remaining, yet the All Blacks, reduced to 14 men thanks to Beauden Barrett’s yellow card, overturned them in a resilient and determined finish.
Robinson saluted the team’s performance as “outstanding” on Thursday and suggested it was a reflection of the “tweaks” Foster had implemented after a 2-1 series loss to Ireland in July and an underwhelming tour of Europe, featuring losses to Ireland and France, before that.
Those changes have included the introduction of Jason Ryan as forwards coach as a replacement for John Plumtree and his influence, particularly in New Zealand’s maul defence, was evident on Saturday.
Schmidt, initially supposed to take over from Grant Fox as the All Blacks’ independent selector, has been another success story as he has gradually become more prominent this year.
Robinson saluted him as a “world-class coach that’s had success in everything he’s been in”, with Foster adding that Schmidt had “got a taste for it” after helping out with the Blues over this year’s Super Rugby campaign. Prior to the trip to South Africa, attack coach Brad Mooar had been axed from New Zealand’s back-room team.
Scott ‘Razor’ Robertson, the all-conquering Crusaders guru, has been touted to lead the national side for some time. It seems that he will not coach the All Blacks until at least 2024, though, with his prospects of a job in the international arena prior to that resting on him finding another nation.
“We have a huge regard for Razor,” said Robinson on Thursday. “We hope he has a future in the game here [in New Zealand]. Today’s not really about Razor. Today’s about Ian and his team.”
Analysis: All eyes on the All Blacks’ autumn
There were fault lines and flaws visible in New Zealand’s game before their most recent struggles. They lost to Australia and Argentina in 2020 after a draw with the Wallabies in their first Test since the 2019 World Cup. South Africa beat them 31-29 the following October, too.
Of late, they have endured a beastly sequence comprising four meetings with Ireland, two with the Springboks and one more with France. Only three of these seven Tests have been at home.
What would have been a respectable record? For many, a return of two wins and five losses should have been enough for Ian Foster to depart. Harsher critics would have axed him even sooner. But it is quite conceivable that New Zealand will go unbeaten for the remainder of 2022 to bring momentum into World Cup year.
They host the Pumas twice over the next fortnight before a home-and-away double-header against injury-ravaged Australia staged between Melbourne and Auckland. After meeting Japan on the way to Europe, New Zealand play Wales, Scotland and England.
Eight wins must be the target. Any more defeats would be deeply worrying setbacks that would tarnish Foster’s reputation further and undermine New Zealand Rugby’s bold decision to retain him. All the while, it will be fascinating to see if another nation attempts to lure Scott Robertson out of his contract and into their set-up. That would really turn up the heat on NZR. Robertson has outlined his desire to win the World Cup with “two different countries”.
Then again, there were hugely encouraging signs for the All Blacks at Ellis Park. Richie Mo’unga’s midfield union with David Havili, his Crusaders colleague, brought greater cohesion and conviction to their phase-play. Ambition and width defied the Springboks’ blitz. One exchange between Rieko Ioane and Will Jordan, eating up around 50 metres via a decision exchange of passes, was spellbinding.
Some remarkable scramble defence, which defied Pieter-Steph du Toit and then Lukhanyo Am following the former’s interception, reflected commitment to the cause more than any Instagram post or sound-bite could.
In the 53rd minute, New Zealand muscled up at close quarters and repelled a series of South Africa mauls. Jason Ryan, their new forwards coach, had promised they would be steelier in this area. Boy did he deliver.
Still, the tide was turning against New Zealand in the second half. South Africa had moved 23-21 in front. Beauden Barrett was in the sin bin. Then Jaden Hendrikse hoisted a box-kick. Jordan rose to gather ahead of Makazole Mapimpi, who had towered above him the previous weekend. Inside his own 22, the wing called for a mark and went quickly.
Via Quinn Tupaea and Jordie Barrett, Mo’unga freed Ioane. A minute later, patient and skilful attack – the hallmarks of Joe Schmidt – carried the All Blacks to within three metres. There, the immense Ardie Savea offloaded and Havili stretched to score.
Even more satisfying was how New Zealand sealed things. Sam Whitelock swooped for a breakdown turnover and Jordie Barrett drove a clearance down-field. Another determined chase, led by Codie Taylor, earned a line-out and Scott Barrett barged over. Winning in Johannesburg without the totemic Brodie Retallick is an impressive way to ease a crisis.
If he dares to look that far ahead, the World Cup will look daunting for Foster. New Zealand share a group with France and will probably face either Ireland or South Africa in the quarter-final. With Ryan and Schmidt in tow, though, Foster can be more confident.
Ominously for everyone else, New Zealand will be stronger for navigating a tough and tricky series of encounters with the best three Test sides in the world. Any more slip-ups this year, however, seem unthinkable.