Foster relief as All Blacks take ‘different journey’ to championship

Foster relief as All Blacks take ‘different journey’ to championship

New Zealand head coach Ian Foster walks to the field after their loss during the third rugby Test match between New Zealand and Ireland at Sky Stadium in Wellington on July 16, 2022. — AFP pic

Sunday, 25 Sep 2022 9:41 AM MYT

AUCKLAND, Sept 25 — A relieved Ian Foster said he was satisfied Sunday after his All Blacks side took “a very different journey” to retain their Rugby Championship crown by winning their last three matches following a stuttering start to the campaign.

New Zealand beat Australia 40-14 in Auckland on Saturday, then had to wait around eight hours to be confirmed champions when South Africa failed to record the landslide win they needed against Argentina in the final match of the four-nation southern hemisphere tournament.

South Africa had needed to score three more tries and 40 more points than the Pumas but managed neither in a 38-21 victory.

It gave the All Blacks the championship on 19 points, one ahead of the Springboks, the 2019 World Cup winners. Australia were third on 10 points with Argentina a point further back.

“I’m very satisfied,” Foster told reporters in Auckland, having stayed up to watch the South Africa match early on Sunday morning in New Zealand.

“We did it the hard way, but we put ourselves in with a chance last night and it was enough.”

The celebrations at the All Blacks’ Auckland hotel were a huge contrast to the start of the Rugby Championship when New Zealand were beaten 26-10 in South Africa after losing a home series to Ireland, their fifth defeat in six Tests.

It put Foster under severe pressure as calls mounted for him to be sacked with the World Cup in France just over a year away.

Foster kept his job when the All Blacks beat the Springboks in the next match in Johannesburg, only to be under fire again when his side suffered a first defeat to Argentina in New Zealand.

It’s really satisfying’

The All Blacks recovered to finish with three straight wins including home and away victories over Australia that enabled them to retain the Bledisloe Cup and the Rugby Championship.

“It’s very special,” said Foster. “It’s been a very different journey to other rugby championships that we’ve won.

“To do it from behind the eight ball at the start and have to climb through that is not the way we wanted, but it’s really satisfying.”

Foster said the experience will help the All Blacks when they play Tests on their northern hemisphere tour against Japan, Wales, Scotland and England starting in October.

He has developed flexibility in his backs as the new-look All Blacks midfield of Jordie Barrett and Rieko Ioane impressed against Australia.

And New Zealand have strengthened their front row options with Ethan de Groot established at loosehead prop and Samisoni Taukei’aho, who scored one of New Zealand’s five tries against Australia, putting pressure on Codie Taylor at hooker.

Foster conceded that the All Blacks must still prove they are an “80-minute side”, having conceded two late tries to Australia at Eden Park, where they have not lost to the Wallabies for 23 matches dating back to 1986.

“I was disappointed that we still let them back on the scorecard in the last 15 minutes,” he said, “that was a little bit of an Achilles heel.”

With a year still to go until the start of the World Cup in France, Foster said he was “not deeply concerned” that the All Blacks lie fourth in the Test rankings behind Ireland, France and South Africa.

“What we’re concerned about is that we improve, because where we want to be in 12 months’ time is not two, three, four or five, it is to be one,” he said. — AFP