Foster’s lineup must deliver to fend off questions
Ian Foster can’t rely solely on his veterans to get the All Blacks out of this hole. To do so would be a grave error from a coach under enormous pressure following consecutive defeats to Argentina and Australia during the Tri Nations tournament.
Foster shouldn’t even have to ask the men who start against Argentina in Newcastle on Saturday night, whether it be skipper Sam Cane or the least experienced player on the bench, to be primed for the test at McDonald Jones Stadium.
If he’s required to spell out what’s at stake, Foster may as well throw his laptop in a charity bin and instruct the bus driver to change direction and unload his passengers at the nearest beach.
The team is named today and you can be guaranteed Cane won’t be taking an inexperienced crew into this scrap; Sam Whitelock has played 121 tests, his lock partner Patrick Tuipulotu has 34 caps, hooker Dane Coles has made 73 appearances and loosehead prop Joe Moody will make his 50th appearance for his country.
Back rower Ardie Savea (48), halfback Aaron Smith (96), midfielder Anton Lienert-Brown
(48) and fullback Beauden Barrett (87) also provide a big chunk of intellectual property.
Plenty of talent there, then, to help lift the All Blacks if they get pinned down by the Pumas. Or so you would like to think. But those players couldn’t prevent a
25-15 loss to the South Americans in Sydney on November 14.
Neither could the less experienced players, for that matter. They can’t afford to hibernate. No excuses.
Rookie Caleb Clarke’s power and enthusiasm on the left wing is vital, but if he isn’t given possession in space – and it would be counterproductive for those inside him to run sideways in their haste to give him the pill – hemay as well be replaced by a garden gnome.
Midfielder Jack Goodhue’s talent has never been in doubt, although the shift to No 12 has coincided with him being less effective than when he started at centre under previous head coach Sir Steve Hansen.
First five-eighth Richie Mo’unga is the key. His 23-point contribution during the 43-5 dismantling of Australia in Sydney on October 31 confirmed his class and ability, yet he was ineffective against the Pumas’ smothering defence; as Hansen liked to say, the No 10 is the ‘‘computer’’ that makes the network tick over, but there will be problems if it cuts out.
A victory, preferably a comprehensive one, in the season finale is the only thing that can protect Foster and stave off inevitable questions about him remaining head coach in
A defeat would be catastrophic not just for him. It would also be a blow for Cane, leaving him with a dismal record of just two wins from six games in his first season as skipper.
A loss would, surely, force NZ Rugby to launch a forensic investigation and ask why the All Blacks have been unable to regain their swagger after the failure to retain the Webb Ellis Cup in Japan last year.
Following the loss to the Pumas, Foster and Cane have had two weeks to implement and road-test a game plan, as well as analyse their opponents and dream up ways to drill through their defensive line.
Foster should expect his match-day 23 to prepare as if this is aWorld Cup final; there’s only one way to heal the wounds from the first-ever loss to the Pumas, and two weeks mulling back-toback defeats during the quarantine period in New Zealand would be torture.
Remember, four years ago British and Irish Lions coach Warren Gatland told an Irish newspaper that ‘‘anyone’’ in New Zealand could coach the All Blacks and be ‘‘guaranteed’’ an
85 per cent success rate’’. Gatland’s comments, which could have been interpreted as being a cheeky dig at Hansen before the Lions toured New Zealand in 2017, came at a time when the All Blacks had won 18 games straight.
‘‘So it’s not a bad team to be involved with,’’ Gatland said.
It’s hardly a breeze when the team is losing, though. Just ask Foster.