The Covid-19 pandemic is set to have a significant impact on Ian Foster's All Blacks coaching reign, while the latest news is not promising for the Rugby Championship, writes Gregor Paul.
It's just about a done deal now that Ian Foster's two-year All Blacks contract is magically going to extend to four.
There's no way he can be fairly judged between now and next August when any negotiations about a contract extension will have to be all but completed.
There will be no choice but to give him more time and ask him to coach the side through to the next World Cup.
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Covid has been cruel to so many and Foster and his wider coaching team can now be added to that list.
His critics, of which there are seemingly many, will argue otherwise and say fate has been all too kind: that the arrival of Covid has earned him a four-year deal by default and one he otherwise may not have earned had this season and next run their natural course.
But Foster, a man of integrity and principle, is not someone who either wants or deserves to have his tenure tainted with the inevitable accusations he 'stole' a second term as it were.
He took the head coach role in December last year knowing he'd won the confidence of the New Zealand Rugby board, but not the public.
Sceptics were everywhere, pointing at the mediocrity of his record with the Chiefs as if that of itself was irrefutable evidence he was doomed to fail with the national team.
Everyone appointed to lead the All Blacks would rather have the nation behind them, come into the job knowing they had won the popular vote. But the fact that Foster didn't, was seen by him as an opportunity to steadily and methodically turn opinion in his favour by reinventing the All Blacks and by extension, himself.
If Covid hadn't struck we'd already have seen that his plan was to keep elements of what had worked under his predecessor Steve Hansen, but to instil into the team a more prominent steel spine.
Some of the cloud hanging over Foster was that the All Blacks' attacking game had struggled on his watch since the latter part of 2018.
The arrival of obsessive rush defences had proven to be the All Blacks kryptonite and the perception grew that the team had lost their attacking mojo — scoring just one try in each of their last two tests against England and failing to cross the line when they played Ireland in November 2018.
The drought was labelled a failure of vision, strategy and creativity but the problem was linked to something more base.
From the latter part of 2018 the All Blacks forwards didn't consistently bring the right attitude to big tests. That desire to crush and dominate flickered throughout that period.
There was everyone pulling apart the pros and cons of the dual playmaking system, when the real issue was that sometimes the All Blacks forwards were beaten up all over the park.
The evidence was there, most plainly in the World Cup semifinal. England owned the All Blacks in the collisions that night. Their big ball carriers got over the gainline and they came off the line harder and faster on defence to ensure the All Blacks didn't do the same.
The All Blacks lost the test because they lost the physical battle, which was the same story when they were beaten in Dublin at the end of 2018.
When they ripped Ireland apart in the World Cup quarter-final, it was Beauden Barrett and Richie Mo'unga who danced a merry dance but only because Joe Moody, Kieran Read and Codie Taylor had punched so many holes in the Irish hull that it was sinking long before the All Blacks playmakers got their hands on the ball.
There are many regrets about what Covid-19 has denied us in sport, but the chance to see Foster's All Blacks as 2020 originally intended is high on that list.
It would have been fascinating to see how he applied his depth of rugby intelligence to the All Blacks this year and intriguing to see whether he could instil the physical edge he said they were missing.
It's almost certain now, despite Sanzaar chief executive Andy Marinos' misplaced confidence, that the Rugby Championship isn't going to be played.
South Africa have said they need to play at least five rounds of Currie Cup football to condition their players and it's not even due to start until October.
There's the added problem that the New Zealand Government won't let multiple teams quarantine at the same time or train while they are in their 14-day lockdown.
It's virtually impossible then to believe the Rugby Championship is viable and therefore a Bledisloe Cup series is the only test football we are likely to see in 2020 and that's not enough to make fair judgement about Foster, hence he will be given more time with a contract extension through to 2023.