Ian Foster cut a slightly tetchy figure on Tuesday. The All Blacks attack coach was not rude exactly. But he was short with journalists.

What was his reaction to Bundee Aki's ban? Was it good news for New Zealand ahead of their World Cup quarter-final clash with Ireland on Saturday? "My reaction to it? I haven't really got a reaction to it. I'm pretty focused on what we do. But it's pretty consistent with what we've seen at this tournament."

What about Andy Farrell? How has Ireland's defence coach managed to get one over on New Zealand so many times [four victories and a draw in 12 matches coaching England, the Lions and Ireland]? "I don't know, you'll have to ask Andy that." Well I'm asking you as New Zealand's attack coach. "Well, I'm telling you to ask Andy. He just does a job based on what he sees and we do a job based on what we see."

Does he mix the pictures up? Scramble? "You'll have to ask him. We'll play what we see."


OK, how about Joe Schmidt then? Does the Ireland head coach have a few tricks up his sleeve or have Ireland shown their full hand in this tournament? "I don't mean to be rude, but you're asking me to guess what another coach is thinking. Really, you've got to ask him. We're assuming, based on past behaviour, that they'll come out with a plan which they think is good enough to beat us. Will that involve some special plays? Probably."

All Blacks assistant coach Ian Foster: Photo/ Mark Mitchell
All Blacks assistant coach Ian Foster: Photo/ Mark Mitchell

Nothing out of the ordinary, perhaps. This is World Cup quarter-final week after all. Tension is running high.

But there is a fascinating subtext ahead of Saturday's quarter-final at Tokyo Stadium. Both of these teams will be losing their head coach at the end of this tournament. Schmidt and Steve Hansen. Two Kiwis, each vying to outwit the other one last time. Plenty has been made of their rivalry.

Less so about who will take over.

But it is equally fascinating. One of these two teams has already declared who will be taking over. Farrell was appointed Schmidt's successor in November of last year, at the same time as it was confirmed that Schmidt would be stepping down. The other has not.

New Zealand are not announcing who will be taking over from Hansen until after this World Cup has finished.

Foster is right at the top of the list. Having been Hansen's assistant since 2012, the former Waikato scrum-half has been involved in one World Cup win already. If he can help to bag another in under three weeks' time, it is likely the NZRU will look favourably upon his application.

If, however, New Zealand lose against Ireland on Saturday, and crash out in the quarter-finals, he can probably forget it. Foster – or Fozzy, as he is known – has a lot to lose.


Is it a distraction? Is the lack of certainty over Hansen's successor causing any uncertainty? Or maybe it is a good thing. Maybe Schmidt's authority is undermined by the fact that he is about to exit stage left?

Current Ireland defence coach and future head coach, Andy Farrell: Photo/ Photo archive
Current Ireland defence coach and future head coach, Andy Farrell: Photo/ Photo archive

Maybe Ireland's players are starting to listen more to Farrell.

The interesting thing is, you might have expected New Zealand's media to be all over this.

If it was England who were potentially going to be left without a head coach in a few days' time, and the favourite to take over was sitting in a press conference on Tuesday, you can be sure there would have been questions about it. But according to journalists who have been covering New Zealand at this World Cup, there have been very few about New Zealand's succession plan.

Why? This is the most prestigious job in world rugby we are talking about – arguably the biggest job in New Zealand.

Perhaps it is because everyone in New Zealand simply expects to win the tournament? They see no point in crossing that bridge until it is over and the cup is in the bag.

Whatever it is, Foster would not be human unless he was feeling the pressure a little. He is potentially just weeks away from securing his dream job.

Current Crusaders coach Scott Robertson: Photo / Photosport
Current Crusaders coach Scott Robertson: Photo / Photosport

In a surprisingly small field – with Warren Gatland having signed a four-year deal with Waikato Chiefs, and with Schmidt insisting he wants to take a break from coaching – only Crusaders coach Scott Robertson is seen as a realistic alternative – although if Jamie Joseph continues to perform miracles with Japan that might change.

Foster, though, is the man in pole position, the heir apparent in New Zealand's game of thrones.

He eventually warmed up a little. What had Ireland done well to win in Dublin in November last year? "I can't remember it," Foster replied with a smile. "No, that's not true. We just got beat by a good Irish team.

"But we don't get too stuck in the past," he added. "It's about what happens this week, not what happened in the past two years." True. But maybe just a little it is also about what will happen in the next few years.