COMMENT

It hasn't taken long for continuity to become a bad word in specific regard to who might be the next All Blacks coach.

For the first 10 years of professionalism there was this ruthless cycle of ditching coaches and their wider management teams after failed World Cups.

New Zealand Rugby never did continuity. It was slash and burn stuff - anyone associated with failure was razed and never seen again.

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The All Blacks lived regime-to-regime, the new coach coming in having to repeat all the same make mistakes as their predecessor as there was no institutional knowledge left in the system.

After the failed World Cup of 2007 NZR decided to take a massive risk – or at least they braced themselves for what was an ugly public backlash by re-appointing the incumbent coaching team of Graham Henry, Wayne Smith and Steve Hansen.

It was a big, big moment in the history of New Zealand rugby as not only did it ultimately usher in the most successful decade any rugby team has ever known, it broke the shackles of the short-term thinking and reactive decision-making that had been holding the All Blacks prisoner to World Cup failure.

There was an awakening to the realisation that it isn't always best to humiliate those who have met adversity by tossing them out as if failure is contagious.

Instead there was an acceptance that adversity can be a powerful force of good if those who have felt the sting of all that it brings can learn from it.

Henry and his coaching team, under the most intense pressure between 2008 and 2011, justified their re-appointment when the All Blacks won the World Cup in 2011 and that paved the way for Hansen to take over as head coach.

Continuity, having previously never been in NZR's thinking, was suddenly the only way they wanted to go.

A brave call in 2007 paid off and so an internal promotion seemed entirely the right way to go when Henry stepped down in 2011 and while there were plenty of people who had their doubts about what sort of head coach Hansen would make, the last six years have been spectacularly successful.

But the mood seems to be turning against continuity. Some of that resistance is focused on the general principle.

Steve Hansen and Ian Foster. Photo / Photosport
Steve Hansen and Ian Foster. Photo / Photosport

If the All Blacks continue to promote from within it can appear to be a closed shop. There is the possibility that the All Blacks will forever be cast in the same mould – the new coach destined to be perennially overly influenced by and wedded to the ideas of his predecessor.

If there is another internal succession in 2020 will that be one too many and create the perception that continuity is not only the preferred All Blacks' way but the only way?

But the mood is turning against continuity not so much on a general concern, but more because specifically there isn't nationwide faith or confidence in current All Blacks assistant Ian Foster.

He will, it seems, be forever judged by his seven-year tenure at the Chiefs that wasn't a roaring success.

His head coaching credentials were further damaged by the fact his successor at the Chiefs, Dave Rennie, won consecutive titles in his first two years in charge.

But when it comes to coaching appointments, history is not always the best guide and the public are never the best judge.

As Hansen himself said in announcing his plan to step down after the World Cup, coaching appointments are often about time, place, and circumstance.

Coaches don't sit on a static development line and nor does the wider rugby landscape.

Hansen and Wales weren't a great fit between 2002 and 2004 but Hansen and the All Blacks between 2012 and 2018 have had a rare chemistry.

Sometimes stars align and sometimes they don't which is why even the greatest coaches in history have a period somewhere in their career that they would rather forget.

It would be negligent to the point of catastrophic to fail to see that Foster, having spent the last six years as an assistant with the All Blacks has grown and developed significantly since he was head coach of the Chiefs.

It would also be wrong to believe that should he assume the top job in 2020 that he will simply try to preserve and replicate the strategies and team culture he inherits.

Hansen forged his own path when he succeeded Henry and the All Blacks have evolved tactically and culturally on his watch to the point of being unrecognisable.

Foster has a strength of personality and rugby vision that is perhaps not publicly visible but is apparent to players and those who have spent time around him in the last six years.

He'll be his own man, bring his own ideas and do things his way with the benefit of inheriting a team that is exceptionally well set up. He'll know instantly what he wants to keep and what he wants to change and having been in the system for as long as has, he shouldn't be prone to making huge rookie mistakes.

Continuity shouldn't necessarily be seen as the right way to go when Hansen steps down but it categorically shouldn't be ruled as the wrong way.

And Foster may not be the right man but he deserves to not be viewed at this point of time as the wrong man.