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19 January 2024
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Will history remember the Ian Foster tenure in a sympathetic light?

Campbell Burnes attempts to evaluate Ian Foster’s four-year tenure as All Blacks head coach and finds that, given so many variables, it’s not easy to pigeon-hole his reign.

It started with a draw and ended in a loss.

In between we saw the slings and arrows of outrageous rugby fortune as the All Blacks struggled to maintain consistency, endured a terrible first half of 2022 and then came home strong in 2023 to almost rewrite the narrative for how we evaluate the Ian Foster tenure.

We finally managed to pin down the man himself for an interview 23 days after that dramatic Rugby World Cup final, not just for balance in this article but for context around why he made certain selections and how he saw things unfolding through some unprecedented times, such as Covid-19, and following on from a successful eight years as assistant to Sir Steve Hansen. Besides which, informed comment is better than me just interviewing my keyboard.

No doubt he has several options on the table around his coaching future – French Top 14 club Montpellier was said to be keen on the day of our interview – and there may even be a book in the offing, though his “wait and see” response was non-committal.

After a losing start to 2022, Foster was a dead man walking until the All Blacks uncorked a determined victory at Ellis Park last year. He then opted not to throw his hat in the ring for the job from 2024 onwards and was clearly peeved about the timing of the process, which culminated in the selection of Scott Robertson as his successor. Public opinion shifted. Many who were highly critical of Foster in 2022, in particular, seemed to have a greater disdain for New Zealand Rugby by April 2023. Some wanted Foster’s All Blacks to win the World Cup to stick it to HQ. One wonders why they didn’t want the All Blacks to win regardless. And yet support should never be taken for granted in this day and age.

While we are looking back at Foster’s four years as head honcho, the man himself prefers to reflect on his time as 12 years with the team.

“Two iconic coaches left after 2011. Ted (Graham Henry) and Smithy (Wayne Smith) set up the All Blacks environment. To come in off their coat-tails was a little bit daunting, but Steve Hansen and I were able to establish a few things. I loved the collaborative nature of the group, with the likes of Crono (Mike Cron), Steve, myself and the senior players. It was challenging. You had to be alert, you had to be smart to convince the likes of Conrad (Smith) and Ma’a (Nonu) that things were going to work. You got tested as a coach,” says Foster.

“Steve really involved me in a lot more of the strategy and politics side of the team. I learned a lot there. It’s been a special time, an amazing time of so many different challenges. It’s a time that I will always treasure.”

Continue reading in our December-January issue - out now!

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