WELLINGTON (AP): Ian Foster is set to remain as All Blacks head coach until his contract expires after next year’s World Cup, saved in part by New Zealand’s Rugby Championship win over South Africa last weekend.
The board of New Zealand Rugby met in Auckland on Wednesday to discuss Foster’s future, weighing information gathered by chief executive Mark Robinson who debriefed Foster and other members of the management team when the All Blacks arrived home from South Africa.
A 35-23 win over the Springboks at Johannesburg last Saturday ended a run of three straight test losses and five defeats in six tests for New Zealand; the worst return by an All Blacks team in 24 years.
Some observers believed the win came just in time to save Foster, who became head coach in 2019 and has guided the All Blacks to 17 wins in 26 tests for a 65% success rate, the worst by a New Zealand head coach in the professional era.
“It’s a privilege to be in this job,” Foster told reporters at a news conference Wednesday. “It’s never something you take for granted.
“No doubt it’s been a hard time, but you’ve got to be in the here and now.”
In a small concession to Foster’s many detractors, New Zealand-born former Ireland head coach Joe Schmidt has been given a more hands-on coaching role under Foster. Schmidt previously had been involved as a selector and video analyst for the All Blacks.
Robinson said Wednesday was a “new dawn” for the All Blacks. But the decision is likely to be hugely polarising.
Public confidence in Foster has been low, especially after this season’s historic home test series loss to Ireland. The All Blacks had never lost a test to Ireland in New Zealand until July, when they lost the three-test series 2-1.
They then went on to lose their first Rugby Championship test against the Springboks 26-10, their heaviest-ever loss in South Africa. Those results followed losses to Ireland in Dublin and France in Paris at the end of last season.
Seeking to forestall criticism, Robinson said: “We are trying our best for our sport and our people.”
“Sure, we never get everything right,” he added, “but at no stage do we ever not do what’s best for our people.”
The nine-member board, chaired by Christchurch businessman Stewart Mitchell, was left almost in a no-win situation in deciding Foster’s future. Dismissing Foster after last weekend’s win could have been deemed unreasonable, but if more poor results follow, blame would be laid at the door of the board.
“We’ve seen significant evidence of growth and change in a short amount of time,” Robinson said. “Ian’s been really decisive about the way he viewed the performances against Ireland. He identified the things he believed needed to change in a short amount of time to improve.
“Sure, we want to win every game. There’s no hiding from that. As this team grows and develops and the things get put around it from a management point of view, we certainly think we’re on a upwards trajectory.”
New Zealand Rugby has faced questions since 2019 over the process that saw Foster appointed to the All Blacks top job ahead of Crusaders Super Rugby-winning coach Scott Robertson when Steve Hansen stepped down after that year’s World Cup. An independent committee was formed to appoint the new head coach but Foster was the only candidate to receive an interview.
There were concerns the panel was influenced by NZR’s desire to see continuity in the head coaching role: Foster was a long-serving assistant under Hansen, who guided the All Blacks to 93 wins in 107 tests.
Foster’s appointment was not universally popular with All Black fans. Robertson was a more charismatic candidate, already with a successful record at Super Rugby level. Foster coached the Hamilton-based Chiefs from 2004 to 2011, finishing 10th in both of his last two seasons.
Current Wallabies coach Dave Rennie took over from Foster at the Chiefs and won the Super Rugby title with the club in each of the next two years.
The All Blacks now will face Argentina in Christchurch on Saturday week in their first home Rugby Championship test of the season.
“I understand the pressure on my role,” Foster said. “When you lose a series people hurt.
“My job is to put context about it and make decisions about how I can improve that going forward. Now I’m pretty excited about going down to Christchurch and giving these players a chance.”