New Zealand rugby fans are reeling after the All Blacks’ historic loss of their Test series against Ireland, with questions raised about the future of head coach Ian Foster and the team’s fitness ahead the World Cup.
On Saturday, New Zealand Rugby chief executive Mark Robinson issued a rare mid-season statement, saying the team’s performance was unacceptable and would be under immediate review.
“Congratulations to the Irish team for their well-deserved win last night but clearly the performance across the series for the All Blacks was not acceptable,” he said. “We all know there is a huge amount of work to do. Our focus now is to work with Ian and his team to understand thoroughly in advance of the Rugby Championship what is needed to improve performance and where to from here.”
Saturday’s 32-22 defeat was the fourth All Blacks loss of their last five Tests, and followed a decisive Irish victory last week. It is the first time the All Blacks have lost consecutive Tests on New Zealand soil in more than two decades, and with the World Cup looming in a year’s time, some ex-players and commentators say the team will need dramatic changes to secure a World Cup victory.
“Have they got a team that’s capable of winning the World Cup? On what we’ve seen in the last two weeks, you would doubt that,” said retired All Blacks star and captain Sean Fitzpatrick in a scathing interview with Sky Sports UK. “The questions will be asked: have they the right coaches? Have they the right head coach? We were outcoached, without question,” he said. “The All Blacks used to worry about peaking too early before the World Cup, so at least that is no longer a concern. And when you consider the following facts it is difficult to see how Foster keeps his job.”
Within New Zealand, the match has placed coach Foster’s already-shaky performance under renewed scrutiny, with growing calls for him to go. “A coaching change must now be considered, at the very least. Ian Foster’s hold on his job must be tenuous at best,” wrote senior sports commentator Marc Hinton. RNZ rugby writer Jamie Wall said the match represented ”a solid case for the worst All Black side ever”.
Foster did not respond directly when questioned about his future with the team after the match. “I just want to talk about this test match,” said, after being asked several times whether he remained the right person to lead the team into the World Cup.
Foster was due to hold a press conference on Sunday morning, but it was abruptly cancelled, leaving gathered journalists waiting. With a South Africa tour coming in August, New Zealand Rugby will be under pressure to make changes.
On the All Blacks’ official fanpage, fans fumed and commiserated after the loss. “For the good of the team, some people need to swallow their pride and say this appointment was a huge mistake. Make the change, make it quickly and start preparing properly for next year,” one wrote. “All Blacks out coached, out played and out passioned on home soil,” commented another.
On behalf of the players, captain Sam Cane ended the night with an apology to fans. “We are bloody sorry,” he said in a post-match interview with Sky Sports. “We couldn’t put the performances out there that you guys deserved.”