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All Blacks coach Ian Foster has done a favour for successor Scott Robertson

Aug 10, 2023Aug 10, 2023

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Ian Foster has blooded new players like Samipeni Finau, Dallas McLeod and Fletcher Newell. Photo /


Two of the most intriguing questions after the second Bledisloe Cup test are a) which of the newbies blooded by coach Ian Foster will go to the World Cup, and b) which of them will survive under Scott Robertson.

Foster’s success with the All Blacks in this campaign has rather overshadowed the fact New Zealand Rugby orchestrated that unprecedented baton change from Foster to Robertson before the World Cup result was known. It is now perfectly possible the All Blacks could emerge victorious from France - but the head coach would still be effectively sacked.

Whatever happens, Robertson has a rebuilding job to do. At least 12 All Blacks are leaving to play elsewhere after the World Cup - Beauden Barrett, Leicester Fainga’anuku, Shannon Frizell, Nepo Laulala, Richie Mo’unga, Brodie Retallick, Ardie Savea (temporarily), Aaron Smith, Pita Gus Sowakula, Roger Tuivasa-Sheck, Brad Weber and Sam Whitelock.

That is an enormous amount of experience and horsepower to replace - and one of the effects of the rather cruel unseating of Foster is that his selections for the coming World Cup have been, not unnaturally, mostly about winning by selecting the best team available and cementing combinations.

In the process - and in the 2022 season - he faced criticism for not giving some of those on the way up more test time to see if they could fill departing shoes now or simply to give them more time in the furnace of test rugby, should they be needed in France. Instead, Foster, Joe Schmidt and Jason Ryan publicly outlined they were aiming to win the Bledisloe Cup and the Rugby Championship - when past coaching regimes have tended to use the championship more as trial time in World Cup years.

In doing so, they have not only turned around the All Blacks’ form and fortunes, they have rejuvenated a few senior players (like Codie Taylor, Scott Barrett, Frizell and Smith) and solved the puzzle of the “dual playmakers” concept, with Mo’unga firmly planted at first five now and Beauden Barrett at fullback.

The latter, frankly, sometimes looked like he was playing to avoid a repeat of his head injury during Super Rugby Pacific, but even the most ardent fans of Will Jordan at fullback must admit Foster and Barrett have done the business so far; Barrett with some sublime touches and direction. As for Mo’unga, the match-controlling difference he made was palpable when he came on after Damian McKenzie had a bit of a horror.

With the Dunedin test, Foster has now given six All Blacks their first cap: halfback Cam Roigard, prop Tamaiti Williams, blindside flanker Samipeni Finau, midfielder Dallas McLeod and wings Emoni Narawa and Shaun Stevenson. While their presence is based on the selectors’ search for players to fulfil the style they want the team to play (and to fill some gaps), Foster is also doing New Zealand Rugby and Robertson a service by capturing the eligibility of the new players.

Roigard, Williams and Finau all look France-bound. Finau, in spite of a powerful second half and emergence as a lineout option, is maybe also there because the unlucky Ethan Blackadder has come down with yet another injury. Narawa and Stevenson seem more likely to miss out, but McLeod’s involvement in Dunedin was interesting.

Jordie Barrett’s clear ownership of the 12 jersey has led to the question of contingencies if he is injured. Most are picking the All Blacks midfield to consist of only four players: Barrett, Rieko Ioane, Anton Lienert-Brown and David Havili, the latter a player much admired by Foster. Fainga’anuku - who booked his passage with an all-action game in Dunedin - can cover centre. McLeod, though his debut yesterday was inconclusive, is cut from the same physical mould as Barrett - tall, raw-boned, quick - and could yet be the one big surprise for France.

McLeod forced his way into the Crusaders’ top team this year; Robertson couldn’t leave him out, picking him to start on the wing at times ahead of specialists - so McLeod can lay claim to covering wing and centre as well. However, none of this is a guarantee that those chosen by Foster would again be selected by Robertson. New brooms have a habit of sweeping clean, though 12 big sets of shoes need to be filled and those with even a taste of international rugby should have a headstart.

Back in February, before the related futures of Foster and Robertson was known, I wrote a column saying that if New Zealand Rugby did jettison Foster, he would be perfectly entitled to forget the future-proofing aspect of his job and focus even more on embarrassing his employers by becoming the first rugby coach to be sacked after winning a World Cup.

Foster has done that - and while he still could have given some of the newbies more time, he has also found six new players, all of whom have done pretty well. In future years, and maybe even at the 2027 World Cup, Foster’s detractors will be able to reflect that he did New Zealand Rugby and Robertson a big favour, selection-wise.

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