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Ian Foster's Time as the All Blacks' Head Coach... How will he be remembered?

After the 2023 Rugby World Cup Final, Ian Foster will have completed his contract after four years in charge of the All Blacks, having lead the team for 46 test matches during this time period. So, after this match, how will Foster be remembered by history? We'll take a look through Foster's progress, from a player, to a coach, to sum his career up.

Born in Putāruru, in 1965, to a Presbyterian family; Foster would later return home to Waikato and debut for the union aged 20. Having initially been educated in Mosgiel, Foster would complete his schooling in Tokoroa. He had a long and storied playing career, "Fozzie", as many know him, remains the record-holder as Waikato's most-capped player, scoring 322 points from 148 games.

Foster's later career coincided with rugby union's professionalism, he was the Chiefs' inaugural first-five, scoring 167 points from 26 games. Foster hung up his boots as a 33-year-old in 1998, with many feeling he was unlucky not to be an All Black at the time. A new dawn however, was to arrive.

Ian Foster was publicly named as the All Blacks' Head Coach on 11th December, 2019.

Early Coaching Career

Rising to the role of Head Coach with Waikato in 2002, Foster managed to lead them to top the round-robin stage of the NPC; before they lost the Final to Auckland by 28-40. Foster's Waikato were beaten semi-finalists in 2003, while they did not get to win the Ranfurly Shield during this era; Canterbury's iron grip of the trophy spanned three years at the turn of the century.

Moving up from coaching Waikato, to coaching the Chiefs in Super Rugby, Foster would have 7 wins from 11 round-robin matches in his first season in charge, though the eventual winners, the Brumbies, would win during their semi-final. In Foster's tenure, the team wouldn't reappear in the knockout stages until 2009, though Stephen Donald's points-scoring rampage would foreshadow the next year; during 2008.

Although Donald's two conversions would prove the difference, in a 14-10 semi-final win over the Hurricanes, the 2009 Super Rugby final would be the highest win margin of any; Foster's Chiefs would lose to the Bulls, who now play in the URC; by 17-61. The Chiefs placed 10th in back-to-back seasons for 2010 and 2011, before Foster would then get recruited by Steve Hansen, to become an Assistant Coach for the All Blacks, in 2012.

All Blacks Assistant Coach & Rise to the Top Job

Hansen's tenure would see Foster be employed by New Zealand Rugby as the backs' coach, while several of the 2011 Rugby World Cup winners such as Israel Dagg, Aaron Cruden, Dan Carter, Ma'a Nonu and Conrad Smith would still be around, to form the backline.

Foster, as a part of the team, would accumulate 41 trophies from 2012 to 2019, if we include the drawn British and Irish Lions series. Such trophies amongst this list include a win streak over both the Bledisloe Cup and Freedom Cup, while the 2015 Rugby World Cup was decided just months after Foster's 50th birthday.

During this time, however, the rest of the world would begin to catch up. With the Graham Henry-era players all dropping out of Hansen's squad like flies, due to retirement, moves overseas or loss of form, the All Blacks lost their near-decade-long hold as World Rugby's #1-ranked side, to Wales.

Prior to the loss of this ranking, Ireland had beaten the All Blacks for the first two times in their history, while Hansen had announced that he wouldn't seek a contract extension after the 2019 Rugby World Cup, so would step down as Head Coach. Hansen's announcement was on 13th December 2018, less than a month after Ireland's Joe Schmidt; had announced that he would retire from being a Head Coach, at the conclusion of the same World Cup, on 26th November.

Although Schmidt has remained involved with rugby, coming home to be an Assistant Coach for the All Blacks in 2023, NZR didn't manage to get Warren Gatland or Jamie Joseph back. Both coaches, who are former All Blacks, went a different route. Gatland signed to coach the 2021 British and Irish Lions, in May 2019; while Joseph was offered an extension to his tenure as the Head Coach of Japan in September 2019.

Joe Schmidt (pictured in Napier), had previously began his coaching journey as a teacher, including at Napier Boys' High School. Photo: Max Sharp.

As the NZR opted to wait until the All Blacks' semi-final exit, a 7-19 loss to England, Foster, still an Assistant Coach and now a Selector for the All Blacks, came into the public conscious as an option. Scott Robertson, a third former All Black, had won three back-to-back Super Rugby titles with the Crusaders, before publicly declaring he would apply for the role.

With Robertson perhaps not yet ready for the role at the time, Foster got announced as the successor to Hansen, on 11th December 2019. In a rare occasion though, public support was not as high as some expected; a Stuff poll for example, showed that just 39% of voters were in favour of Foster being hired. A glaring omission from Foster's CV, despite his win spree as an Assistant, was his lack of a trophy as a Head Coach. With the 2020s around the corner, we would soon get to see Foster's biggest success stories and his biggest failures.

Foster's Success Stories

In the COVID-19-affected 2020 season, uncertainty hung over fixtures like a black cloud, where nothing was a guarantee. The third test of the season, against Australia, would become the All Blacks' largest winning margin over them though, with the final score ending as a 43-5 win; the margin being 38 points. To close out the season, the All Blacks would also hold Argentina scoreless for the first time in history, as they won by a 38-point margin again.

2021 would begin with a roar, as Foster allowed for the win over Argentina in 2020 to extend it's way to a 10-test win streak. This was the All Blacks' longest win streak since the 2015-16 seasons. The 102-0 win over Tonga by the All Blacks, was Tonga's worst-ever losing margin and the sixth time the team had scored 100 points in a test match, though it should not be celebrated too much; many of the Tongan players were amateurs, on debut.

Two Eden Park tests against Australia followed, the second of which was a 57-22 victory; the most points ever scored by the All Blacks against Australia. The third Australia test was the first New Zealand victory in Perth, while the All Blacks had reclaimed their spot at #1 in the world, for the first time since 2019, in time for their 100th test against South Africa. Another 100-point win arrived afterwards, 104-14 against the USA, who suffered their worst-ever losing margin. The 90-point margin was the All Blacks' largest over the USA too, the Americans would later fail to qualify for the 2023 Rugby World Cup.

Wales were up next, conceding their highest losing margin of 38 points to the All Blacks, as they were to lose 54-16. A 47-9 win over Italy, would break the record for most points scored by a national team in a calendar year, extending the total to 675 points scored by New Zealand in 2021.

The win margin records did dry up a bit for 2022, but in glorious fashion, the All Blacks redeemed a defeat in Christchurch to Argentina, by beating them in Hamilton, by 53-3. This domination was Argentina's biggest loss to the All Blacks since 1997. The fall of Welsh rugby under Wayne Pivac, would then again be brutally exposed by the All Blacks, in 2022, they would extend their win margin to 55-23; the All Blacks equalled their record points total over Wales this time.

Prior to the 2023 Rugby World Cup, Foster would become the first All Blacks coach of the professional era, to win The Rugby Championship every time he competed for it. Winning it in 2020, 2021, 2022 and 2023, Foster has a better win ratio towards this trophy, than any All Blacks coach in history, while he became just the second All Blacks coach to have a 100% win ratio when competing for the Freedom Cup against South Africa. Victory in Melbourne, over the Wallabies, also extended the All Blacks' Bledisloe Cup win streak, to 21 years, the longest-ever period.

Foster's Lowlights

Although using particular metrics, we can argue Foster has either broken, or extended up to 16 records as an All Blacks' coach, this particular section of the article, paints a far more grim picture of his tenure.

Starting with Ofa Tu'ungafasi in Brisbane and with Scott Barrett most recently in London, the Foster era has been the one, where the All Blacks have conceded the most red cards. Tu'ungafasi and fellow prop Angus Ta'avao, both received red cards for tackle technique issues, Jordie Barrett's 2021 red card did not result in a suspension though, as his accidental mid-air kick to Marika Koroibete, was later ruled not worthy of a red card. Scott, like his younger brother, did not receive a suspension, as his red card at Twickenham, against South Africa, was for getting two yellows in the match. The four red cards issued in Foster's tenure, has doubled the All Blacks' historical total, to 8 red cards.

After a loss and a draw from four tests against Australia in 2020, the All Blacks' first-ever loss to Argentina, would mean Foster had just a 50% win rate from his first season in charge. Nicolas Sanchez scored all of Argentina's points, during their 25-15 victory in Sydney. This was also the first time the All Blacks had lost test matches back-to-back, since 2011.

South Africa, losing the 100th test between the two nations, would end Foster's 10-test win streak by recovering from a half-time deficit against the All Blacks, for the first time in their own history; to win by 31-29 off Elton Jantjies' boot.

Much darker things, were to come too. Ireland beat the All Blacks for just the third time in history, Dargaville-born Joey Carbery would put the 29-20 scoreline out of the All Blacks' reach, converting turnovers into points off the tee. France, with a 40-25 win in Paris, beat the All Blacks and won the Dave Gallaher trophy for the first time since 2009, with their highest-ever win margin over the All Blacks.

Things definitely got ugly in New Zealand in the winter of 2022; losing at Eden Park didn't deter the Irish from making history. Ireland, as of the time this article is being written, have not lost a test match since then. With a red card and two yellows issued to the All Blacks in Dunedin, Ireland won on New Zealand soil for the first time in history, with a margin of 23-12. The third test of this series, broke a lot of records not in Ian Foster's favour.

Ian Foster (pictured in 2022) walks towards the Eden Park tunnel, whilst mid-conversation with tighthead prop, Nepo Laulala. Photo: Max Sharp.

Ireland's series win over the All Blacks, was the first home test series to be lost by the All Blacks in the professional era and their fifth overall, while they lost home test matches back-to-back for the first time since 1998; one year before I was even born. Ireland went to #1 in World Rugby for the first time since 2019; while the All Blacks, losing back-to-back against Ireland for the first time, fell to a record low of fourth place.

2022, a rotten year for Foster; would see the All Blacks then lose back-to-back against South Africa for the first time since 2009. Foster, having three different losing streaks as an All Blacks coach, also became the third coach to lose three tests in a row since 1998. South Africa would win in Mbobela by 26-10, their largest-ever win margin over the All Blacks, meaning that Foster would again see a historically low world ranking of fifth place.

Beating the Springboks one week later, in Johannesburg, saved Foster's job, though Foster had already changed his coaching staff by the two South Africa results. This meant John Plumtree (Forwards Coach) and Brad Mooar (Attack Coach) would become the first-ever All Blacks coaches to get sacked. Foster's third test with Joe Schmidt now involved as the Attack Coach and Jason Ryan as the Forwards Coach though, would give one last piece of drama.

Argentina would win in Christchurch; this was the All Blacks' second-ever loss against Los Pumas. Michael Chieka, who had since taken charge as the Argentina coach, had also become the second-ever Head Coach to defeat New Zealand whilst in charge of a second nation; after Eddie Jones did so in charge of England. Both coaches had previously done so in charge of Australia. This was the first time in history that the All Blacks lost two home games.

Although Foster followed Christchurch with an undefeated streak, this record stopped in London this year. The Twickenham match, won 35-7 by South Africa, is now the All Blacks' worst losing margin in history. If not for some individual brilliance by Cam Roigard, we could have even been held scoreless for the first time in the professional era.

A Summary of Foster's Career

Although we have seen the All Blacks fail to top their pool for the first time in history, the All Blacks will contest the Webb Ellis Cup, for the first time since winning it in 2015. Foster, having won the trophy as an Assistant Coach, will now go in with a 50/50 shot at winning the trophy again, as he heads to Stade de France on Sunday morning (NZ time).

While Foster has broken several records against the All Blacks' favour, World Cups typically stick out the most on a Head Coach's resumé. While Foster's successor, Scott Robertson, was hired back in March of 2023, Foster absolutely remains employable if he wishes to continue coaching.

At 58 years old, Foster is by no means "Fozzie the Fossil", so could absolutely become involved in the set-up with some Super Rugby teams, as Warren Gatland and Jamie Joseph have done after overseas ventures, as a Director of Rugby in Gatland's case.

Although Italy, Australia, Wales, England, Scotland, Ireland, France and Argentina have long-term coaches all signed, with South Africa tending to avoid overseas-born coaches, there are other nations who are yet to hire replacements for their incumbents. Toutai Kefu will step down from Tonga, Simon Raiwalui will do the same with Fiji, while Rugby Australia and Eddie Jones have both rebutted the Japanese hiring of Jones. Portugal and Georgia are also in need of a new Head Coach.

World Rugby's recent approval of a "Nations Championship", to begin in 2026, has left the Pasifika nations rather ticked off and fairly so, but perhaps hiring a World Cup-winning coach, in Foster, would make up for the missed opportunity to play Tier One nations. Foster, who will be fresh off coaching the All Blacks, will be able to provide intel, while Joe Schmidt, a loyal man, might just be part of the ticket. Foster, through his belief in Christ, would be able to gain a strong connection with the players in Tonga and Fiji, while they'd suit his attacking mindset.

Former two-test All Black, Pita Gus Sowakula (pictured against Ireland) is now based in France and no longer eligible for New Zealand. Having played his final test in 2022, he could again be coached by Foster in 2025, should Foster take the Fiji job. Photo: Max Sharp.

With a reputation of caring for players and his statement of "who says this is my last World Cup?", to the press, Foster is absolutely young enough to continue coaching and if not internationally, several clubs would still seek him to put the pen to paper.

Good luck to Foster in his next chapter, because he can make plenty of choices, as to what that chapter might be, in a very up-and-down novel.

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