After a thrilling match in Johannesburg, the All Blacks beat South Africa 35-23 on Saturday to end a woeful run of five defeats in six games. The Kiwis and their coach are recovering a bit, but the crisis that started a few months ago is not far off…
In the 68th minute of the match, when Handre Pollard’s penalty allowed South Africa to take the lead for the first time in the match (23-21), defeat again seemed inevitable for the All Blacks, overwhelmed by the physicality of the Springboks.
But throughout the match, determined and wanting to play more than in previous weeks, the New Zealanders turned the situation around for a try by David Havili after a great recovery from winger Rico Ioan. They increased the score late in the match for an almost comfortable 35-23 win in a game of great intensity.
After the meeting, coach Ian Foster said he was “incredibly proud” of his players. Its captain Sam Kane has been heavily criticized in recent weeks, highlighting the team’s reprehensible mentality during the match: “Character is really challenged in adversity, our group as a whole.”
A very subtle period
It must be said that the past few weeks have been chaotic for New Zealand rugby. Five defeats in six games against Ireland, France and South Africa. The highlight was a 26–10 defeat in South Africa on 6 August, the biggest defeat against the Springboks since 1928.
Losing to three of the best teams in the world right now isn’t notorious on paper, but this series of games has brought the Blacks back from their pedestal. A year after the World Cup, the best team in the history of this sport is the fifth country in the world. The first since the establishment of the World Rugby Rankings.
Coach in the hot seat
Critics fell on coach Ian Foster after the defeats. In office since the end of the 2019 World Cup, the 57-year-old has “only” won 17 of the 26 games he has played with the All Blacks. World champions in 2011 and 2015 and semi-finalists in 2019 are far from the standard of this team. He is also the first in history to lose against Argentina in 2020.
New Zealand may be knocked out before even taking part in the mini World Cup, New Zealand watchers are calling for anyway. The New Zealand Herald, the country’s largest newspaper, ran a headline on Monday August 8 under the headline “It’s time for a change”, along with a photo of the coach claiming he was “one of the worst coaches in the history of the All Blacks”.
When the national team does poorly, the whole country worries, with even Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern questioning the exit of a council of ministers over the team’s misfortune.
Ian Foster’s future is still in question
While the win over South Africa will undoubtedly allow Ian Foster to breathe a little, his place at the helm of the Kiwis is far from secure. “I don’t know, I’m just going to enjoy my evening,” he replied when asked about his future after the match.
New Zealand Rugby chief executive Mark Robinson was less reassuring, saying he needed to “take stock of this short period of time and make a decision”. If the coach is sacked, two names will return to succeed him: Joe Schmidt, the former Ireland coach and already a member of the All Blacks’ staff, and Scott Robertson, the coach of the Crusaders’ franchise. The New Zealanders have two weeks before their next match against Argentina on August 27 to choose who will lead the All Blacks at the 2023 World Cup in France.
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