In the spirit of the season of goodwill, here are eight suggestions that could help Ian Foster and New Zealand Rugby to win hearts and minds.
One: The All Blacks win most of, or, better still, all their tests. That trumps everything else a coach can do. So beating Scotland and Wales in July, and then having a good rugby championship is the gold-plated key to silencing critics.
Two: Foster must stay the affable, articulate man he's been since he was a salesman in Hamilton in the 1990s for TVNZ and played at first-five for Waikato in the weekends. When Steve Hansen took over the All Blacks from Sir Graham Henry he got professional advice from public relations guru Ian Fraser. I'd suggest Foster doesn't need grooming. The day it was announced he'd been made All Black coach, when asked on NewstalkZB by Simon Barnett what his wife's reaction was when Foster rang to tell her he'd got the job he said it was: "Oh no." As Homer Simpson often says, it's funny because it's true. The more the public gets to see and hear the real Foster the better for him and the All Blacks.
• Rugby: Ian Foster reveals All Blacks coaching staff
• Rugby: Ian Foster reveals wife's hilarious reaction to All Blacks coach announcement
• Analysing Ian Foster's potential All Blacks coaching team
• No 'copy and paste' coach: Ian Foster opens up on tough response after All Blacks appointment
Three: At NZR level make sure new CEO Mark Robinson is in the public eye too. Steve Tew, the man Robinson takes over from, became a lightning rod for the most vociferous critics, some of whom stretched their venom to lengths as ridiculous as bagging him for associating with adidas, which, wrote one, "have links back to Nazi Germany". If Tew had cured cancer, you suspect a couple of his media haters would have accused him of trying to hog the headlines. Having known Tew since he moved to Christchurch in the early 1990s, and seen the success that always travels with him, I've never believed he was remotely the devil in a collar and tie. However, it is true that the velvet glove has never been his strongest point, whereas Robinson's persona is more user friendly. As with Foster, Robinson, a graduate of Cambridge University, won't need any PR training, just a willingness to engage with the public through the media.
Four: Stay brave with selections. In 2012 the selection panel of Hansen, Foster and Grant Fox drafted in nine new All Blacks, all of whom would be at the triumphant 2015 Cup. The fact is there's again rebuilding to do now. Foster and Fox need to be as innovative as they were in 2012.
Five: Encourage those All Black players, who can, to break out of rugby speak. We know it's possible. TJ Perenara and Brad Weber's stands against the views of Israel Folau spoke of an innate decency not everyone would expect from professional rugby players. In April last year Weber tweeted, "My cousin and her partner, and my Aunty and her partner are some of the most kind, caring & loving people I have ever had the pleasure of knowing. To think that I play against someone that says they'll go to Hell for being gay disgusts me." He followed up, saying, "Kinda sick of us players staying quiet on some of this stuff. I can't stand that I have to play this game that I love with people, like Folau, who say what he's saying." The good news is that a year later Weber told me that there had been no backlash against his statements from the rugby community. "Since then I've seen a lot of teammates and other people in New Zealand rugby speaking out in support of the gay community as well, speaking up for inclusiveness. Probably what I'm most proud of about the whole thing is that it's given others the courage to speak out as well."
AdvertisementAdvertise with NZME.
Old school fans may shudder a bit when Ardie Savea talks about mental wellbeing, and learning to be vulnerable. Some may yearn for the days when British media dubbed the All Blacks "the unsmiling giants." But it's not 1969, it's 2019 and displaying humanity is now a sign of strength, not weakness.
Six: On the other hand, keep some of the old stuff that works. The night of the All Blacks semifinal with England in Yokohama was the most painful 80 minutes of World Cup watching for a Kiwi since the nightmare in Cardiff against France in 2007. Witnessing All Black forwards driven back again and again in the collisions was as bewildering as it would be to see Lex Luthor win an arm wrestle with Superman. John Plumtree is an affable man, but there's enough in his background, playing in a Taranaki forward pack, and being a Sharks coach in South Africa, to suggest he'll be looking for that hard edge that has served All Black forwards well since the 1905 Originals stunned Britain with the ferocity of their approach. Sensitivity off the field should be genuinely applauded. On the paddock we want eight cold-eyed hatchet men.
Seven: Get tough, but don't stop being daring. Being out gunned at the breakdown against England was the main reason for not winning three Cups in a row. Lost in the fallout was the dazzling play in the 46-14 quarter-final against Ireland. That highwire style can come unstuck, but when it clicks there isn't another current team in the test arena that plays more exciting, dramatic rugby.
Eight: Don't get sidetracked by our media friends up north. When Stephen Jones says that Foster has "negligible experience outside the hothouse atmosphere of New Zealand rugby" what he means is that Foster hasn't coached in Britain. Well, no, except for the six times since 2012 when he's been the assistant coach when the All Blacks have toured north at the end of the year, and the eight weeks he spent in England and Wales when the All Blacks won the 2015 World Cup. In Stephen World the only thing that really matters is coaching a club side throughout a European winter. No it's not.