WELLINGTON (AFP) – New Zealand face some serious soul-searching, with the focus on head coach Ian Foster, after they were completely outplayed by France in Paris on Saturday (Nov 20) to end their worst year since 2009.
The 40-25 defeat left the All Blacks with a 12-3 win-loss record in 2021, while Graham Henry’s side suffered a 14-4 season 12 years ago.
“There will be some very big questions aimed at the All Black coaching set-up,” said Radio New Zealand’s Jamie Wall after the defeat, which came a week after losing to Ireland.
For a remarkable 508 weeks, until just before the start of the 2019 World Cup in Japan, the three-time world champion All Blacks dominated rugby as the top ranked side in the world.
But the fear factor they then possessed has been fading ever since.
Covid restrictions have forced Foster’s squad to play their last nine Tests over 12 weeks away from home, but New Zealand’s media see the problems as much more than travel fatigue.
“World rugby has a new global order, and right now the All Blacks are on the outside looking in,” Marc Hinton wrote on news site Stuff.
He described the All Blacks as being “officially in free-fall” less than two years from the 2023 World Cup in France.
New Zealand Herald rugby columnist Gregor Paul said: “The problem for the All Blacks now is that the world doesn’t fear them because the world doesn’t have to.
“The All Blacks have a number of undeniable issues, many of which appear to be running too deep to be blamed on mounting fatigue at the end of a hard year.
“Their gameplan looks confused – an erratic mix of buzzing about behind the gainline and then kicking poorly under pressure.”
Liam Napier, in the New Zealand Herald, noted the “frantic, rattled decision-making” of the All Blacks.
“The flaws France exposed have been exploited too often this season, leaving major concerns surrounding the All Blacks’ ability to problem solve week to week,” he said.
France proved, as did South Africa and Ireland who also beat New Zealand this year, that a “big, powerful forward pack” will seriously trouble the All Blacks.
The Paris scoreline “arguably flattered” the All Blacks,said Newshub, as they slumped to their fifth loss in 21 Tests since Foster took over from Steve Hansen after the 2019 World Cup.
It was initially a two-year appointment but just after 12 months it was extended through to the 2023 World Cup in France.
“All of a sudden, that decision earlier this year to extend Ian Foster’s contract through that global event seems like it might just have been somewhat premature,” said Hinton.
Veteran NZ Herald sportswriter Chris Rattue raised the same issue after the loss to Ireland last week.
“(New Zealand Rugby) should have waited until after the northern tour, when they could make the best possible assessment on whether to extend his contract,” he wrote.
“The All Black forwards came a distant second, the team’s expansive approach undone yet again by a blueprint now well-known to opposition teams.”
Columnist Mark Reason said New Zealand were “outplayed and they were outcoached”, adding that the problems had been evident for some time.
“Even when the All Blacks were amassing points against hapless opposition a few months ago, a few of us warned that this was coming,” he said on Stuff.
“There are some major fault lines in this team, fissures that have been widened by poor coaching decisions.”
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