The Dominion Post
Five of the best will sharpen Razor’s case for ABs role
Another year, and another final for Scott Robertson. Who would bet against a victory for Robertson’s Crusaders in the Super Rugby Aotearoa final against the Chiefs on Saturday night?
Chiefs fans, that’s who. Which is fine. They will say Chiefs coach Clayton McMillan, given the way he lifted the team out of its early season funk, has the street smarts to convince his players they can dethrone the Crusaders in Christchurch.
Yet McMillan is new to this. That counts against him, and his team which is loaded with players who haven’t experienced the speed and intensity of a Super final.
Robertson is a veteran. To recap: since taking over as coach of the Crusaders in 2017, he has won three Super Rugby finals and last year claimed the SRA title.
He also had to suck a lemon in late 2019 which, you would have to assume, intensified his desire to be recognised as one of the best rugby coaches in the world.
When NZ Rugby needed a replacement for All Blacks coach Sir Steve Hansen after the World Cup in Japan, Robertson’s excellent results counted for zilch because Ian Foster was instead promoted from assistant to the top job.
Last year, with Super Rugby cancelled because of Covid-19, Robertson had to be content with winning the New Zealand competition instead.
It was then left to Foster to entertain the pandemic-weary masses by getting the All Blacks up to standard in the Bledisloe Cup and Tri-Nations matches.
There were spectacular hits, and misses. The Bledisloe Cup was retained following two wins (one by
a record margin), a draw and a loss to the Wallabies, and the All Blacks also secured the Tri-Nations after the Springboks refused to join the Kiwis, Aussies and Argentina for the Rugby Championship.
A first-ever loss to Argentina in Sydney added an unwanted scar to the All Blacks’ record. There was, quite rightly, a significant amount of noise generated following the 25-15 defeat at Bankwest Stadium.
The Pumas deserved to be praised for their defensive effort, but the All Blacks should have been much better against a team that had only recently stepped out of quarantine.
As the argy-bargy among the public and media continued in the wake of the defeat, questions about Robertson’s future in New Zealand continued to surface.
Little has changed. Robertson has yet to recommit to NZ Rugby (who pay his wages) and the Crusaders beyond this year.
It’s expected he will. NZ Rugby can’t afford to let him go; it would be more than a PR clanger, it would be a disaster to allow him to exit and upskill players in a foreign land.
Until Robertson puts his quill to the contract, it pays to be nervous.
Foster is also only contracted until the end of 2021, but wants to remain through to the 2023 World Cup in France. When interviewed for the job in 2019, he provided his interrogators with a detailed plan of what was required to reclaim the Webb Ellis Cup.
Right now, though, he has to focus mainly on short-term goals.
Victories over Italy and Fiji during the July test window in New Zealand are unlikely to convince NZ Rugby that Foster deserves to have his contract rolled over.
More should be demanded of him. Beating the Springboks would be a good start. Retaining the Bledisloe Cup, also. Don’t forget the Rugby Championship.
Only after these tests should NZ Rugby make a call on Foster’s future. If reluctant to provide a contract extension, it should request job applicants before the All Blacks’ tour of the northern hemisphere.
Robertson, though, shouldn’t need to be asked. Not if the Crusaders win SRA. Five titles in as many years.
It should be too significant to ignore.