Departing Foster comes up smelling of roses for New Zealand players
"He has also faced adversity not only this tournament but leading into this tournament and to lead us and produce some of the footy we were able to produce is a credit to him."
New Zealand’s head coach Ian Foster exits the pitch after the France 2023 Rugby World Cup Final match between New Zealand and South Africa at the Stade de France in Saint-Denis, on the outskirts of Paris, on October 28, 2023. Picture: FRANCK FIFE / AFP)
Ian Foster ended his turbulent four-year reign as New Zealand head coach with a heartbreaking defeat in the Rugby World Cup final but while he departs without the Webb Ellis trophy he at least will have “flowers” from his devoted players.
The 58-year-old was justifiably proud of his men after they lost 12-11 to South Africa on Saturday despite playing for over 50 minutes with 14 men after captain Sam Cane’s yellow card was upgraded to red.
It had been Cane and other senior players who had gone to New Zealand Rugby CEO Mark Robinson last year, after a run of woeful results had been ended by an unexpected win over the Springboks, and told him Foster had to stay.
Robinson yielded but nevertheless Scott Robertson was named head coach earlier this year. Foster refused to re-apply as he thought it should be handled after the World Cup and was an unnecessary distraction.
Foster may sometimes come across in public as caustic and dry but that is not the whole truth — although he is the son of a Presbyterian minister, he admitted to crying after the win over South Africa in August 2022.
But to his players he was everything.
“That stays within the locker room,” replied centre Rieko Ioane about what Foster had said to the players after their one-point defeat in the rain in Paris on Saturday.
“But what I’m able to say is that I have the utmost respect and praise for Fozzie.
“He has also faced adversity not only this tournament but leading into this tournament and to lead us and produce some of the footy we were able to produce is a credit to him.”
‘Family is important’
Ioane, 26, said Foster served as an example of how, if you are given time, you can turn things round and that people should not be so quick to rush to judgement.
“Everyone was quick to get on him when things were bad and so quick to come back when things started coming good,” said Ioane.
“The message is just believe in who’s in charge because as players we do.
“This playing group has huge, huge praise for Fozzie and whether he gets his flowers or not, he will from us.”
For prop Tyrel Lomax, Foster had been extremely dignified throughout the tough times as indeed had Cane, who was pilloried after the historic home series loss to Ireland last year.
“I thought he has been an awesome coach, I think the way he has carried himself over the last 18 months has been awesome. Him and Sammy (Cane) have led this team,” Lomax said.
Foster, who did taste World Cup glory as assistant to Steve Hansen in 2015, had said before the epic 28-24 victory over Ireland in the quarter-finals he did not want his players to “die wondering” what might have been if they were beaten.
Scrum-half Aaron Smith, who is also departing the All Blacks, at least put those fears to rest.
“We didn’t die wondering,” said the 34-year-old after the agonising defeat in the rain in Paris.
Smith had termed the final “his last big dance” and wanted to bow out like his 2015 teammates fellow legends Dan Carter and Richie McCaw in winning the title.
That was not to be — his excellent second-half try was ruled out for a knock on earlier in the move — but Smith, the first All Black of Maori heritage to reach the 100-cap milestone, said seeing his family after the match had dulled the pain.
“I went to get my kids, they don’t know how you are feeling but they still love you,” he said.
“That really grounded me, they still love their dad.
“Those are the moments you have to be grateful for and brings things into perspective.
“Family is important.”