Rugby Championship: The potential ramifications for Ian Foster ahead of the All Blacks’ pressure game with Argentina

·5-min read
 Credit: PA Images
Credit: PA Images

After the All Blacks impressively defeated South Africa in Johannesburg and duly provided their head coach, Ian Foster, with a stay of execution, New Zealand Rugby (NZR) no doubt thought the pressure was off.

An easier schedule, which started with the so-called home ‘bankers’ against Argentina, meant the governing body could avoid making the difficult decision. Mark Robinson and co. thought they were all set to have a comfortable ride until the end of the year but it blew up in their face once again.

Foster’s charges were met by a solid Argentinian defensive wall as Los Pumas claimed their first-ever victory over the All Blacks on New Zealand soil – another piece of unwanted history for the current head coach.

Since then, the knives have been out for Foster and he desperately needs a victory on Saturday, otherwise it may well be the end of the road for the 57-year-old. That has been a regular sentence over the past couple months as questions on the head honcho’s future have lurched from game to game, but surely, just surely, he can’t survive another loss.

We have therefore delved into what victory or defeat could mean for the All Blacks and Foster.

Best case scenario: Dominant win and the pressure recedes for now

Many fans were extremely unhappy to see Foster retained after the South Africa tour, despite the victory over the Springboks at Ellis Park, but the frustration would have been much higher had the team not played with the type of style they did. Quite rightly, one game shouldn’t have decided the head coach’s future but equally the nature of the win made life very difficult for NZR.

The governing body now find themselves in a similar situation to before the second Springboks encounter, with the head coach on the brink. So how they, the team and the head coach must hope for a similar result and performance against Argentina in the Rugby Championship this weekend. With the platform their forwards set in the first Test and the talent New Zealand have behind the scrum, they could wreak havoc, but the hosts will need to significantly improve their attack.

Joe Schmidt has only just started his role as coach and that showed in Christchurch with the home side lacking any sort of penetration. They had plenty of the ball but were sent into reverse on several occasions, leading to handling errors and turnovers. But you still feel New Zealand could rack up a big score in Hamilton. The All Blacks only need to be slightly better and Los Pumas slightly worse and the holes will eventually appear for Foster’s charges.

Worst case scenario: Another loss and Foster departs

Such is the muddled decision-making of New Zealand Rugby, it feels like Foster could lose every game from now until the end of the year and keep his job. Equally, the All Blacks might win seven in a row and then sack him. But, ultimately, the end will surely be nigh if they go down to Argentina for the second time in a week.

Los Pumas are a very good side and some of the coverage surrounding last Saturday’s clash makes it sound like the All Blacks succumbed to the worst team in world rugby, but it was no doubt a mortifying result for the head coach. Prior to 2020, they had never lost to the South Americans but that all changed under Foster as they fell to Mario Ledesma’s men in Australia. By following that up with another defeat two years later, this time at home, supporters have quite understandably vented their frustration.

A third reversal in a short period of time at the hands of the Argentinians is almost unthinkable, but not improbable given their current form. It would then leave NZ Rugby with a big but, in our eyes, pretty obvious decision to make. The governing body will certainly be embarrassed, having backed him only two weeks earlier, but then, that emotion has been a pretty common theme for NZR over the past few years. Lose to Argentina again and Foster’s job is pretty much untenable.

Likely scenario: Mediocre performance but a scrappy win as Foster stays

New Zealand don’t need to fix much to get the better of this weekend’s opponents. The three-time world champions had already set a decent platform in the scrum, putting the visitors under significant pressure, but in the second half that was relieved by poor lineout execution. They will want to improve that and also play a bit smarter when in possession of the ball.

The kicking game went completely awry, failing to keep the Argentinian defence guessing with cross-field kicks and grubbers in behind, as they continually kept running into a South American brick wall. If they can do that, it would help partially alleviate another particular issue and that is the breakdown, where New Zealand were turned over at will.

However, it is a big ask to rectify all those problems and we expect it to remain tight for the most part, with the All Blacks eking out an unconvincing win. That will see Foster retained but it won’t be enough to satisfy the critics, who continue to demand that Scott Robertson replaces the struggling head coach.

READ MORE: Former All Blacks hooker James Parsons takes aim at Ian Foster’s approach to ‘rebuilding’

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