Gregor Paul in South Africa
All Blacks head coach Ian Foster is understood to have been told by his New Zealand Rugby bosses that they expect him to resign if his side loses in South Africa or fails to show definitive improvements.
The Herald understands the request was made by NZR chief executive Mark Robinson and general manager of professional rugby Chris Lendrum at a tense meeting at Foster's house a few days after the All Blacks had lost the series to Ireland.
At the same meeting Foster presented his plan to reshape his coaching team by axing assistant coaches John Plumtree and Brad Mooar and bring in Crusaders forwards supremo Jason Ryan.
That move was approved, but Foster was then told it may not be enough to save his job and that he was being given the series against South Africa to prove whether he is the right man to carry on as head coach.
It is believed that when he was told that he should resign if performances and results don't measure up in South Africa, Foster made it clear that if Robinson wants him out, he will have to sack him.
The inability of that exchange to provide any certainty about what will happen to the All Blacks head coach has added to the sense that there is a growing disconnect between Robinson and Foster.
Signs of disunity first emerged on the Sunday following the third test loss to Ireland, when after a pre-arranged media conference with Foster was cancelled without communication, Robinson issued a statement in which he said: "The performance across the series for the All Blacks was not acceptable."
The following Friday Foster fronted a media conference on his own at Auckland Airport to reveal the Rugby Championship squad. He also had to tell the media that coaching changes were in the pipeline but due to an ongoing process, he couldn't say what they were.
The Herald is aware that several leading figures in the rugby fraternity made overtures for Robinson to be at Foster's side to handle the questions about the potential coaching changes as they were employment matters and therefore in the chief executive's wheelhouse.
A week later, after having not spoken publicly since issuing the statement after the third test, Robinson appeared on Jason Pine's Newstalk ZB show, and said: "As we've signalled he's certainly the person to lead the team to South Africa and we're making sure that we've got everything possible in the way of resourcing and support to make sure that's successful."
The inference was clear – that Foster is only definitely in charge for the next two tests, but no details have been offered as to what results the All Blacks need to achieve or what performance criteria they need to meet for him to keep his job.
Speculation has arisen that the All Blacks will need to win at least one of the two tests, but it is not known whether that has specifically been laid down to the coach and nor is it clear what will happen if they lose both and Foster can't be persuaded to fall on his sword.
Robinson was asked to confirm whether Foster has been given specific feedback on what is expected of the All Blacks in South Africa and whether he's also been told of the consequences of those targets not being met.
He said he couldn't comment on any discussions held with high-performance personnel.
This move to encourage Foster to resign is thought to be related to a reluctance on the part of NZR to incur yet more termination costs. The national body had to buy Mooar out of a three-year contract with the Scarlets club in Wales back in 2020 – with reports suggesting the cost of that was around $400,000.
They then had to pay Mooar again and Plumtree when their two-year All Blacks contracts were terminated with about 18 months left to run. Both men are likely to have been earning about $500,000 a year in their All Blacks jobs.
Foster, who is believed to be paid close to $1million a year, would come with an expensive pay-out if he's sacked and its likely that if he were to be replaced, the new head coach would want to bring in his own people which would see the remainder of the current contracted All Blacks staff – Scott McLeod, Greg Feek and Andrew Strawbridge – also having to be paid out.
The total cost of terminating the contracts of Foster and his wider coaching team could be in excess of $3m depending on what compromises can be reached.