Waiting for the All Blacks to crumble: Final yardstick of NZ fans’ treatment of Ian Foster

It’s an uncomfortable thought, never mind feeling, for the All Blacks faithful. That is, how many of them will be cheering for the juggernauts when the RWC final kicks off against South Africa in France this weekend.

Hey, the ABs mythically tee up on a reputation of uniting a nation where politicians fail… just not this time. Well before the team’s flight had touched down at the Parisian tarmac, the rugby union fabric in New Zealand had frayed. Many Kiwis had written off head coach Ian “Fozz” Foster as a “clown” — other labels are too cruel. Bracing in an earthquake-drill position, the detractors had waited for the ABs to crumble to Ireland in the quarterfinals.

Former NZ captain Tana Umaga has reportedly touched on this hypocrisy but qualifying it as “this sort of thing doesn’t happen in the country” is incorrect. Just ask ex-ABs mentors John Hart, Laurie Mains, Wayne Smith, and John Mitchell what it feels like to be chucked under the team bus. Umaga personifies old boys who seldom ever bite the hand that feeds, even if the dog tucker tastes dodgy.

Fozz coaching for his players who, in turn, play for him, is noble. NZ Rugby appointing Scott ‘Razor’ Robertson, of Canterbury, as Fozz’s successor early this year, not so much. Now that’s what makes the players’ loyalty endearing, considering non-Cantabrian members’ apprehension of Razor’s “cutting edge” from 2024.

(Photo by Cameron Spencer/Getty Images)

With all that Fozzie has endured, making it “all about the team” is selfless. But, you see, this RWC campaign will always be about him, no matter if the ABs clinch the title for a record fourth time or the Springboks claim that honour.

It’s safe to say Fozz was the second most undesirable Kiwi — after a much-maligned former NZ prime minister, Jacinda Ardern — over that duration. That’s in a country where rugby union fans will tell you the head coach’s job trumps any political one.

Suffice it to say, Fozzie had been teetering at the edge of the NZR ship’s gangplank, staring down at the murky undercurrents after the ABs had succumbed in six out of eight tests, from November 2021 and August last year.

By February this year, the 58-year-old’s fear of losing his job had prompted a declaration to not reapply to appease the anti-Fozz brigade.

It had all the skulduggery of the most appalling act in the country’s sporting history: Black Caps cricket captain Ross Taylor finding out on tour in Sri Lanka in December 2012 that then-coach Mike Hesson had combined with “teammate” Brendon McCullum to oust him from his position for a “sulking” McCullum.

Bar Fozzie’s loyal home fans from Waikato and anyone else with a conscience from outside the dairy farming province, the rest of the nation’s fanatics had lauded his impending resignation. Some felt Razor — with just Super Rugby experience — should have taken the ABs to France.

It’s not too late for pro bono lawyers to fight Fozz’s case in a court of law for unfair dismissal on account of workplace coercion. The prudent guess is he will choose life.

Beyond proud ????

Four nominees for the World Rugby Awards. Congrats lads, well deserved ????

Ardie Savea – Player of the Year
Ian Foster – Coach if the Year
Mark Tele’a – Breakthrough Player of the Year
Tamaiti Williams – Breakthrough Player of the Year pic.twitter.com/iLLAxyxmXY

— All Blacks (@AllBlacks) October 26, 2023

Knighthood? It may give Fozzie immense satisfaction to have his naysayers address him as “Sir” but, then again, he can snub it in the knowledge it’ll always be “To Sir With Scant Love” for many.

Conversely, the fans’ test of faith is understandable after the 25-18 loss to Los Pumas in Christchurch only two months ago. But one wonders what critics will say if the ABs win?

He got lucky against Ireland in the quarterfinal; the Argentina semifinal was a given. If Fozz prevails? The same — the playoffs draw was a breeze — not that Fozz will care.

Nobody wants a losing streak on one’s resumé, but Fozz has taught Kiwi fans that a poor report card leading to the RWC is a godsend to throw rival contenders off their scent. Even a defeat in pool play isn’t a Chicken Little moment.

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In doing so, Fozz champions the edict that winning the game of life will always eclipse titles. For now, uniting the nation will be a privilege accorded to an unsuspecting Australia when it hosts the Melbourne Cup.

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