All Blacks coach Ian Foster is proud of how his team turned their fortunes around after a poor start to go on and claim the Rugby Championship.
For much of the competition, Foster’s role as coach was under fire after the All Blacks lost to the Springboks in the opening round off the back of a series loss to Ireland in July.
The All Blacks recovered with a lovely win against the same opposition a week later in Ellis Park before losing to Argentina in New Zealand for the first time adding further pressure on Foster.
Key changes to coaching staff
However, backing from New Zealand Rugby coupled with a coaching staff shuffle that saw Joe Schmidt and Jason Ryan come in for Brad Mooar and John Plumtree respectively made a world of difference as the All Blacks won four of their six Rugby Championship clashes, including three wins on the bounce.
Foster said despite the tournament not going to plan, it was “special” to claim the title in this way, with his team showing massive character along the way.
“It’s very special,” he told Stuff. “It’s been a different journey to other Rugby Championships we’ve won. To do it from behind the 8-ball at the start … it’s not the way we wanted, but it’s very satisfying. I’m really proud of the effort the boys have put in.”
The coach has learnt the importance of staying together and close as a team when under pressure, both on and off the field.
“In life you don’t know what it’s going to chuck at you,” added Foster. “You can only deal with the situation you’re in and no one can walk in those shoes but yourself. What have we learnt? That under pressure we stay tight, under pressure we’ve sought solutions that have made us uncomfortable at times, but the goal is to get the performance right.”
Foster is happy with the foundation the All Blacks have laid during the Rugby Championship but knows there is still a lot to improve on going forward.
“There is still quite a bit left in this tank. We saw that even last night. The building blocks are nice, but there are still a lot of finishing touches we’re not quite getting right. But what a great spot to be in.
“It’s up to us to make sure they’re areas we can now tidy up. Some of the conversion rates in our line-breaks, for example, and I was disappointed we let them back on the scorecard in that last 10 minutes … they’re small things but could be important things in 12 months’ time.”
The All Blacks performed well in patches but never strung a full game together, with their final round 40-14 win over the Wallabies the closest to an 80-minute performance.
“We’re still not an 80-minute team, and that requires a mental approach where we’re just a little more relentless,” he said. “But we’ve seen signs we’re going upwards in that area.”
Then came the prods for personal reflection. The man so many wanted to go, is not only still there, but thriving. Had he proved a point?
World Cup in mind
Foster believes the team have proved they can climb out of a difficult period with poor form and looks forward to the preparation the end-of-year tour will provide for next year’s World Cup that is rapidly approaching.
“Take the word ‘you’ and make it a ‘we’,” he said. “We’ve proven to ourselves we can climb through adversity – and there will be more to come. I’m just proud of the way the team dealt with the pressure of not performing to the level we wanted and haven’t sulked about it, and just got into work.
“As a coach you grow through experience. It’s hard to explain sometimes the journey a team is taking and changes they are making. Sometimes you’ve just got to go do it. It’s satisfying where we’re at but there are more ladders to climb.”
“We’ll go a little bit fresher than in the past, and that’s a deliberate strategy,” added Foster. “We want to get stuck into this tour and it’s important we finish in a position where we’ve got a really clear picture of what we want to do, because next year is pretty thin with just five tests before the World Cup.”