OPINION: Although the All Blacks uncorked their magic to beat the Springboks 35-23 on Sunday morning, it remains unclear if it was enough to repair the fractured relationship between Ian Foster and NZ Rugby.
It’s an issue that, one way or another, must be resolved with haste. NZ Rugby CEO Mark Robinson is scheduled to talk to media on Sunday (5.30pm NZT), but whether an announcement on Foster’s future is imminent is anyone’s guess.
Until then, we can only ponder the outcomes.
There’s little time to dither because in a fortnight the All Blacks will play Argentina in their next Rugby Championship match in Christchurch. Everyone – the coaches, players and fans – deserve clarity.
Immediately after the win in Johannesburg, Foster seemed uncertain whether he still had a job. Or perhaps he was keeping that information to himself.
Regardless of who does, or doesn’t, know about what lies in store, one thing is clear: the All Blacks produced their greatest performance under Foster since he took control of the team in 2020.
Yet it remains a mystery whether the magnificent win at Ellis Park was enough to convince NZ Rugby it has got the right man in charge of its flagship team ahead of the World Cup in France next year.
Having lost five of their previous six tests, the most recent the 26-10 defeat to the Springboks on Mbombela a week earlier, Foster and his All Blacks were forced to take a deep breath and accept only they could shovel their way out of the mess that had been created.
It doesn’t get more daunting than playing the Springboks in front of 62,000 fans at 1730 meters above sea level. Yet the All Blacks, despite all the uncertainty about the future of Foster and Captain Sam Cane, displayed their character to duck, dive and counterpunch before delivering a devastating uppercut on the chin of the world champion Springboks.
Foster, having brought fresh props Ethan de Groot and Tyrel Lomax and blindside flanker Shannon Frizell into his pack, and with Richie Mo’unga electrifying the attack at No 10, convinced the team it was good enough to reverse its fortunes.
In the space of 80 minutes the All Blacks went a long way to helping frustrated fans forget the 2-1 series loss to Ireland by displaying courage and a wide array of skills.
Springboks coach Jacques Nienaber didn’t help his team, either. The decision to bench hooker Malcolm Marx, who created chaos at the breakdowns by making four steals and was the best player on the field in Mbombela, was difficult to fathom.
Yet, even when Marx did take the park late in the 30th minute, his impact was limited by comparison to the mayhem he caused a week earlier.
The All Blacks refused to buckle, even though the Springboks charged back to take the lead for the first time after Beauden Barrett was yellow carded for obstruction in the 67th minute.
It was as if the rarified air in Jo’burg fueled the All Blacks with the confidence and zest that was so badly lacking in the first test against the Springboks, as they surged back to put David Havili and Scott Barrett in a position to score late tries.
Argentina, having humiliated the Wallabies 48-17 in San Juan after a loss a week earlier, will soon fly to Christchurch to get set for a battle in the chilly climes of the Garden City.
It just remains to be seen whether Foster will still be in charge of the All Blacks.
Cane and his mates delivered for Foster when he needed them most. Providing Foster still wants the job, the players have helped paint NZ Rugby into a corner. They have, possibly, saved Foster’s career from him.
Maybe. That’s the part we are yet to figure out.