The Rugby Championship: All Blacks must step up for under-fire Foster in the heat of Springboks battle

·3-min read

Ian Foster will know there is more than just Rugby Championship points at stake when wounded New Zealand start their campaign against South Africa on Saturday.

Foster is under huge pressure after the All Blacks suffered a first home Test series defeat to Ireland last month.

New Zealand have come under fire following a 32-22 loss against Andy Farrell's inspired side in the decider in Wellington, with growing calls for Foster to be sacked.

Mark Robinson, the New Zealand Rugby chief executive, was unable to offer head coach Foster long-term backing before the squad boarded the plane for two Tests against the world champions.

Asked about Foster's future, he told Newstalk ZB: "He's certainly the person to lead the team to South Africa, and we're making sure they've got everything possible in the way of resourcing and support to make sure that's successful."

Robinson had stated that the 2-1 series defeat to Ireland was "not acceptable", and it would appear he will not tolerate further painful setbacks in South Africa.

Assistant coaches John Plumtree and Brad Mooar lost their jobs after Ireland's historic triumph, but Foster has vowed to fight on just 13 months before the Rugby World Cup starts in France.

Winning the Rugby Championship title last year must seem like a distant memory for Foster as his side prepared to start the defence of their crown at Mbombela Stadium.

Following years of dominance, New Zealand are fourth in the rankings, and this is something of a crisis by their standards.

Victory for the Springboks in Nelspruit this weekend would represent a third defeat in a row for New Zealand for the first time since they lost five consecutive Tests in July and August 1998, two of which came at the hands of South Africa.

Foster has made four changes to his team for the opening match of the tournament, bringing in lock Scott Barrett, hooker Samisoni Taukei'aho, tighthead prop Angus Ta'avao and wing Caleb Clarke.

South Africa have not beaten New Zealand at home since a 27-25 success in 2014, but Jacques Nienaber's men will be favourites to end that wait on Saturday.

The Springboks have won six of their past seven Tests on home soil, the last of which was a 30-14 defeat of Wales in Cape Town that sealed a 2-1 series victory.

A formidable, powerful force when at their brutal best, facing South Africa in their own backyard is an almighty challenge, and Foster will need warriors to step up with his job seemingly on the line.

Argentina and Australia get the tournament under way at Estadio Malvinas Argentinas on Saturday, with the Pumas on a high from securing a dramatic series win over Scotland.

They won the decider against Gregor Townsend's men 34-31 last month thanks to a last-gasp try from Emiliano Boffelli and will now attempt to end a six-Test winless streak against the Wallabies.

Australia have been licking their wounds since suffering a 2-1 Test series defeat at home to England, and they have won only one of their past nine Tests played away from home – that victory being over Japan last October.

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