The current All Blacks face some serious problems, which began with the appointment of their head coach. These are being expressed in the performance of their players, writes JAMES DALTON.
Ian Foster’s All Blacks have an attitude that is unjustified, and an arrogance that is uncharacteristic of the All Blacks brand. The All Blacks ethos has always been that you do not own the jersey, you simply loan it by having earned it. Judging by 2020, most of these individuals will be wearing their numbers on a short-term loan.
The current All Blacks pack is possibly the most average one they have fielded in the last decade. Lacking the big-names aura of McCaw, Read, Kaino and co, not one of the players – bar the injured Brodie Retallick – would make my or many others’ World XVs.
The current pack of forwards is setting scrums which are disintegrating, displaying an average lineout and getting dominated at the breakdown and point of contact in a way in which their predecessors never did. There has to be wrong up front when a backline with so much dynamic individual talent is struggling to fire.
Not only does this current pack lack the quality of the men before them, they lack the discipline and rugby nous. Instead of creating penalties, they are conceding them, and getting involved heavily in off-the-ball antics. When they do get penalties awarded, they are not building points and momentum but rather keep kicking to the corner and then failing to convert their lineouts into tries. It’s easy to maintain discipline when you are winning every game, which the All Blacks of the last ten to fifteen years essentially did, but when you are behind, frustrated and nullified – as this current squad has been at times – the lack of discipline becomes glaringly obvious.
My belief, when looking at the greater All Blacks set-up, is that the problem runs deeper in divided loyalties within the group. There was this fear in breaking tradition and appointing Scott Robinson, and a belief that his selections would be too Crusaders dominant. But in appointing previous assistant coach Ian Foster as head coach, one gets the sense that he doesn’t necessarily command the presence of his predecessors. There is now the contradiction of an evident Hurricanes dominance, synonymous with forwards coach John Plumtree. There is a feeling, too, that perhaps Plum is the puppet-master within that coaching set-up. With regard to Foster’s appointment, perhaps the All Blacks tradition of appointing previous assistants as head coaches has now become outdated, similar to how the All Blacks have gone from leaders to followers.
Another moving part to consider is captain Sam Cane, who led the Chiefs to not one single win in Super Rugby Aotearoa. Now in the international set-up, he has been setting the example in losing his composure and getting involved off the ball. There is a lack of composure, and again an arrogance in also refusing the three points in a Test match and constantly kicking for the corner. Especially when your set piece keeps getting negated.
For most of the professional era, the All Blacks have set the rugby standard and other teams and nations have tried to emulate and exceed it.
The current All Blacks are a team that have been and will be chasing the standard, and if they do not turn it around against what is a poor Argentinian side this weekend, I don’t see Foster having a further two years added to his contract.