The vacant All Blacks head coaching job appears to be Ian Foster’s to lose, with the two main candidates making final preparations for their all-important interviews on December 9.
What started out as a process involving 26 potential candidates – the number of contenders New Zealand Rugby put in the loop initially – now appears to have been narrowed down to just two: incumbent assistant coach Foster and wildly successful Crusaders mentor, and former All Black, Scott ‘Razor’ Robertson.
Other leading prospects have taken their names out of the hat. Highly regarded ex-Chiefs coach Dave Rennie has accepted the Wallabies role; and, likewise, the former Highlanders pairing of Jamie Joseph and Tony Brown have re-upped with Japan in a big-money deal done on the back of their breakout World Cup efforts.
With experienced campaigners such as Warren Gatland (committed to the British and Irish Lions in 2021) and Joe Schmidt (who may yet come into the picture in a support role) ruling themselves out of the top role in the immediate future, that essentially leaves Foster and Robertson in a two-horse race.
Sources indicate New Zealand Rugby strongly favour the retention of Foster who has served eight years as Steve Hansen’s assistant. It’s thought at a time of significant change, with Mark Robinson starting in January as the new chief executive, and skipper Kieran Read among a half-dozen experienced players heading offshore, the continuity and IP that Foster would bring is viewed at board level as highly desirable.
It’s expected the final decision will be made by the middle of the month by a selection panel that includes NZ Rugby chairman Brent Impey, incoming CEO Robinson, as well as former coach Sir Graham Henry, NZR head of high performance Mike Anthony and ex-Silver Ferns coach Waimarama Taumaunu. Impey declined to be interviewed for this story.
The inclusion of Henry, likely to wield a strong influence through the process, is notable, believes former NZ Rugby boss and experienced administrator David Moffett who has Foster at short odds to win the head-to-head contest against Robertson.
“I now believe it’s a race in one,” the Canterbury-based Moffett, who ran both the New Zealand and Welsh unions, told Stuff. “Foster would have to stuff it up mightily not to get the job. I just don’t think they’ll give it to Razor, even though he’s got far and away a superior record as a head coach.
“The thing that troubles me about the whole thing is there seems to have been a view proffered by Henry, then Hansen, that it’s their job to create a dynasty, and whoever the assistant coach is will automatically become the coach. As we know with dynasties, at some point they don’t work.
“I’m not suggesting that Foster is not a good coach. I just don’t know if he’s a head coach and in that regard who he takes with him is going to be terribly important. A guy like John Plumtree, who’s been mentioned, could be crucial as it’s very important for him to have the right people around him.”
Moffett says Henry’s inclusion on the panel strongly favours Foster’s retention, though he notes that an outstanding interview can sometimes swing an appointment in an unanticipated direction.
“The four most important positions in New Zealand rugby are the chairman, chief executive, All Blacks coach and captain,” adds the man who led the establishment of Sanzar rugby. “They’ve gone outside looking for input from three other people, and one of them is Henry whose views will be propagated by his dynasty.”
Moffett’s one piece of advice for incoming CEO Robinson is to “forget everything you’ve learned in the business world, you are now in the business of rugby. There’s an old saying that rugby is too much of a business to be a sport and too much of a sport to be a business.
“This is a huge test for Robinson. If he gets it wrong, his first major decision, it’s a big black mark on his CV. Ultimately he’s going to be judged on how this coaching team works. All the pressure is on Impey, Robinson and the new coach to get this right.”
Moffett felt the fact that just two legitimate contenders were left standing from this process indicated that it has not played out as a robust one.
“People have looked over the fence and said ‘this is a foregone conclusion, they’ve got Henry on the selection panel, what’s the point? I’m not going to go through the motions of applying’. The rugby union have misread that.
“If they hadn’t already made up their mind, they should have moved earlier. But presumably they’ve already made up their mind.”
Regardless of what plays out in December, Moffett says Robertson remains very much an All Blacks coach-in-waiting.
“He should do one more year with the Crusaders, get a fourpeat, which is really difficult, and then I would then go overseas if I was him, hone his skills even further, and then they’ve got a guy with even more experience who can come back and coach the All Blacks.
“Youth is the future. South Africa did it with [Rassie] Erasmus and look at that result. Razor would bring an incredibly different way of doing things and it would be exciting. The New Zealand public needs to re-engage with and get excited about the All Blacks.”
This content was originally published here.