The shockwaves of New Zealand Rugby’s decision to keep head coach Ian Foster on while letting go of two of his assistants have reached as far as South Africa, where media pundits have not shied away from criticizing the situation.
The All Blacks have been labeled ‘imposters’ and ‘fragile’ after their historic 2-1 series loss to Ireland at home, while their subsequent decision to let the assistant coaches go has drawn criticism for using ‘scapegoats’ to cover for their head coach .
South African scribe Mark Keohane called the side ‘the worst coached and selected’ All Blacks team since the dawn of the professional era who are lacking a quality head coach.
“But as good as the Irish played, this is the worst coached and selected All Blacks match-day squads I have reported on since the game turned professional in 1996. They are imposters,” Keohane wrote for Keo.co.za following the Irish series.
“I felt Wales had the toughest assignment of the northern hemisphere teams and Ireland had the easiest, given who they actually played and not being seduced by the history of who they were playing. When I say easiest, not to be misinterpreted as easy.
“Historically, there is no tougher assignment than the All Blacks in New Zealand but in the context of the current fragility of the men in black and the substandard pedigree of their head coach Ian Foster, this was a series out of kilter with the quality of what the All Blacks have traditionally produced at home.”
The statistics support Keohane’s assertions with the All Blacks losing back-to-back games for the third time under Foster, and the first time at home.
Foster sports a 67 per cent win rate as All Blacks head coach, which is the lowest since the game went professional in 1996 and below that of Laurie Mains (67.2 per cent) who coached the team at the 1995 World Cup.
Aside from the win-loss ratio, records have continued to tumble since 2020 when Foster’s coaching set-up took over the team, such as losing to Argentina for the first time in history.
Writing a column for Supersport, writer Brendan Nel said that the axing of Brad Mooar and John Plumtree “made them the scapegoats of the recent series loss to Ireland.”
“While head coach Ian Foster has kept his job – against public opinion and on the background of some of the worst media management after the loss that the country had seen – Plumtree and Moar have been made the culprits for the All Blacks not fronting up to the Irish forwards,” he wrote.
Nel theorized that the appointment of Crusaders’ forwards coach Jason Ryan is a direct move to counter the Springboks strength at scrum and maul, as the former Fiji forwards coach has a specialty in that area.
The Crusaders impeccable maul defense highlighted the difference that Ryan could make to the All Blacks, however he said the rushed appointment looked ‘a bit desperate’.
“Ryan is no stranger to top flight rugby and has a record with the Crusaders that some have boasted has not let in a rolling maul try in five years,” he wrote.
“While that may be a bit skewed by the fact the last three seasons have seen no South African participation since the NZ Rugby Union pulled the plug on Super Rugby, Ryan is seen as a specialist when it comes to rolling mauls.
“But in bringing in Ryan and sacking Plumtree the All Blacks look a bit desperate, and it will be interesting to see what he can bring in two weeks before the Boks face the men in black in Mbombela.”
Ahead of the revamped Rugby Championship, Jon Cardinelli of The Daily Maverick highlighted that the Springboks have a chance to emulate the deeds of the 2009 Springboks with a two-match series at home against the All Blacks.
The change in the home-away format has afforded South Africa the best opportunity ‘in more than a decade’ to win a full Rugby Championship title, with their last one coming in the truncated version in 2019 with one win each over Australia and Argentina.
“The fact that these matches will be staged in South Africa — and that the All Blacks rather than the Boks will be forced to traverse the Indian Ocean — shouldn’t be taken for granted,” he wrote.
“The Boks still have a lot to prove and the All Blacks — who have a good record in South Africa — should not be written off. The tour to Australia will be challenging for a Bok team that hasn’t won an away Test against the Wallabies since 2013.
“But thanks to the changes to the format, the Boks will enjoy their best opportunity to succeed in more than a decade.”
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