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Former All Blacks winger Julian Savea has hit out at what he believes has been an irresponsible and hurtful social media backlash against beleaguered coach Ian Foster.
Foster has borne the brunt of criticism over the past month for his team’s historic form slump, with news media, rugby pundits and fans all weighing in with myriad opinions as to what leadership mistakes he may have made.
However, Savea says some of that criticism has gone too far, especially on social media where opinions well outside the realm of Foster’s coaching expertise have been loudly voiced.
“Shocked and disturbed at some of the comments and remarks I’ve seen and heard about Ian Foster on social media lately,” Savea wrote on his Twitter account.
“In a country where mental health is a big issue, where 72 per cent of suicides are men and a high number of depression amongst men, you would think people would be a bit kinder and think about their words before they make remarks on someone’s integrity , appearance and character, especially when they don’t know them on a personal level.
“I’m ashamed that this is how a human is treated and dragged in the media here in NZ.”
Savea makes his point from a place of experience, having been through his fair share of social media strife; including death threats made toward his baby daughter while playing in France.
That was just one episode from a career he says was full of similar moments, with public judgment and criticism a constant in his time as a professional player.
“Been a constant up and down battle with mental health during my years as a rugby player,” he posted on Instagram in April, 2020.
“From the pressure it brings into my life and personal life to the judgment that is constantly being made about my career.”
Savea’s call for the public to back off when it comes to Foster echoes that of former Scotland coach Matt Williams who said following the side’s series loss to Ireland that the public and media response was embarrassing.
“Ian Foster has suffered far more public criticism and humiliation than any coach should be forced to endure for a sporting defeat,” he wrote in a column for the Irish Times.
“Not for the first time, the reaction to defeat by the New Zealand media and their wider rugby community has exposed a deep flaw of character. The treatment of Foster by his own community has been nothing short of shameful. As a coach, criticism comes with the badge but the personal vilification he has had to endure is simply not acceptable.”
Foster himself has conceded the criticism leveled towards him is taking its toll, telling media after the first-test loss to the Springboks last weekend that the evidence was plain to see.
“I’m going gray and my hair is receding pretty quickly. It’s never easy,” Foster told media.
He will be hoping, along with millions of New Zealanders, that the All Blacks squad will bounce back on Sunday in their rematch against the Springboks and the social media noise will quieten.