We are finishing a season of 14 matches and I doubt whether anyone, Foster and his coaching team included, has the faintest idea on what our best back row and back line is. –Japan-based Kiwi rugby authority, Neil Smith

By Roger Childs

A comprehensive French victory

Following the All Blacks 40–25 drubbing at the hands of France, hard on the heels of the loss to Ireland, it is inevitable that rugby fans have grave doubts about head coach Ian Foster. Playing in front of 72,000 fans in Paris the home side got out to a 21–6 lead in the first half on the basis of three converted tries to two penalties. The All Blacks did come back in the second half with three tries including a brilliant 50m solo effort to Reiki Ioane to close the score to 25–27, but a stupid no-look pass by David Havilli late in the game allowed Damian Penaud to make the intercept and put the game beyond doubt with a try under the posts.

The two consecutive defeats highlight the reality that New Zealand rugby has lost its air of invincibility that once created fear in the minds of other teams, and another thrashing for the Black Ferns at the hands of France underlines that the women’s game is in poor shape.

Inevitably, there are big questions being asked about the All Black and Black Ferns coaching.

Worries about the All Blacks

The northern teams now play an All Blacks style of rugby and New Zealand has definitely gone backwards. We had a great game against a weakened Welsh side but were poor against Italy and were well beaten by the Irish and the French. Smith’s quicker service was good and we did have our moments in the second half with Iaone’s brilliant effort being the try of the match. Unfortunately we often didn’t have enough players backing up the ball carrier, something that has always been a hallmark of the Crusaders Super Rugby teams. 

Far too often in the game against France there were aimless kicks down field, especially in the first half, which always gave away possession and if that was part of the game plan it didn’t work. We have also adopted the Springbok approach of too much “kick and hope” by the half back behind the scrum which usually results in giving the opposition possession. 

In previous years we regularly attacked from our own half and ran with speed and flair instead of constantly booting it down field.

We have become too predictable in our tactics. Why aren’t we having the backs standing deeper, doubling round, running two lines and using short kicks over the top? When the forwards in the Paris test started using aggressive pick-and-go drives in the second half we looked good. But in the first half France scored two tries to hooker Peata Mauvaka from lineout drives – so why didn’t we have eight forwards against eight to counter these rolling mauls close to the line? We always seem to have a couple of forwards holding off and joining the opposition’s drive to the line too late. Again the Crusaders always seem to have eight committed forwards in the maul when the opposition comes down with the ball. 

Another weakness in the French test was, with a couple of exceptions, the ball being kicked too far from drop-outs. The guilty party was Richie Mo’unga. You always want to give your own players a chance to recover the ball. We did miss the steadying influence of Beauden Barrett at first five. Mo’unga never put his stamp on the game and was outplayed by the brilliant Ntamack who score a key try in the first half.  

Ardie Savea generally played well and scored a valuable try in the second half but was yellow carded for an offence the commentators failed to explain. Both All Black hookers played well and the Chiefs Samisoni Taukei’aho is the man to take over as the number one rake.

“Razor” Robertson the man for the job?

The comprehensive defeat at the Stade de France should be the end of Foster. Razor would be a breath of fresh air and instil the sort of pride, enthusiasm and team culture characteristic of his Crusader and Canterbury sides. We do have plenty of talented players who would relish his leadership and guidance.

Sadly, the Rugby bosses won’t have the guts to sack Foster. Before the northern tour the New Zealand Rugby Union unwisely extended the coach’s contract through to the 2023 World Cup, a decision which in retrospect was very short sighted. Foster will only goes if he falls on his sword.