Doyle on Rugby: Nowhere to hide for Ian Foster

The All Blacks coach is under intense scrutiny at home, writes Garry Doyle from New Zealand.


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The headlines screamed off the page of New Zealand’s national newspaper, The Herald.

“Was this the worst ever All Blacks test?”

“Why Ian Foster is one of the big bungles in NZ Rugby history.”

“I back my coach,” says Ardie Savea.

Here in New Zealand, you don’t want to be feeling the heat Ian Foster is coming under, not after Saturday in Dunedin, the third match he has lost out of four. Anywhere else, a stat like that raises eyebrows; here it raises grave concerns.

Being on tour here is a fascinating experience, not just because you can’t go anywhere without someone mentioning the series. From Syrian and Chinese taxi drivers, to Indian waitresses, the local barber, the flight attendant: everyone has an opinion. You doubt if that is the case in any other country, even South Africa.

It’s the best thing about the All Blacks and if you are Foster, it is probably the worst thing about the All Blacks.

It is uncomfortable to watch. The first time we encountered Foster was in 2016, two weeks after the All Blacks’ defeat to Ireland in Chicago. An assistant then, he cut a relaxed figure, speaking quietly in the press conference, fulfilling his duties.

Fast forward to this tour. He remains polite but is redder in the face, tenser in his expressions. This team is a symbol of national pride. In a country with as small a population as Ireland, isolated geographically, the three-times world champs represent all that is best about their country.

And that’s a huge burden to carry.

“I know our fans… we hate losing and it hurts like anything,” Foster said. “The reality is that we’ve got a bit of growth to do. We know that.

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“We’ve got some players who are learning quick and there’s no room for error when you play Ireland and then you’ve got a couple against South Africa.

“But I stated at the start that’s what this team needs right now. I know it’s hurting but we’ll get there.”

But will they?

Years ago, you’d have bet your mortgage on them.

But now?

If anything Saturday’s final test is a 50/50 game. A point has to be made that Ireland played 53 minutes with an additional player in Dunedin…

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Garry Doyle

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