1 Oct 2020

Ian Foster is lacking control - Bidwell

2:40 pm on 1 October 2020

Opinion - Ian Foster's exhibiting all the authority of a relief teacher right now.

All Blacks Head Coach Ian Foster.

All Blacks coach Ian Foster. Photo: PHOTOSPORT

People assumed, quite rightly in most instances, that rugby in New Zealand was run for the benefit of Foster's predecessor as All Blacks coach.

Steve Hansen called the shots and, whether New Zealand Rugby (NZR), the players, the players' association or the Super Rugby franchises loved that or not, they all got on with it.

It remains to be seen how many All Blacks are available for every match this season.

Perhaps we could get the government to delay Christmas by a couple of days, so that more players can play more matches?

In the meantime, we have the odd player speaking up and expressing a displeasure at the quarantine restrictions they might face and the likelihood that Christmas could be spent in confinement.

Fair enough, but let's not forget why the All Blacks are playing this year. It's so NZR can pay the players' wages, no other reason.

Whether Christmas is moved (which we'll assume is a long shot) or SANZAAR or NZR or the players' association - or whoever - makes the absolute and final decision about the All Blacks' playing schedule and quarantine requirements, you feel safe in assuming it won't be Foster.

He'll be told what's happening and that represents a huge change from the previous regime.

When Foster speaks, it appears to be with a degree of frustration and bewilderment.

He doesn't know why he hasn't been given the schedule he wants or who's responsible.

He doesn't get why he's having to answer questions about it or why the questions keep coming, even though he's said he doesn't want to talk about it.

He insists no player has ever suggested they might not want to play every match this year.

This didn't happen under Hansen's watch. He controlled the narrative, he set the agenda, he made sure that no player spoke out of turn. When Hansen wanted something, he got it.

Put simply, Hansen was in charge and everyone knew and respected that.

The All Blacks talk about "time in the saddle'' and maybe some of that will give Foster a similar standing.

In the short term, it wouldn't hurt someone to have a word to the players and maybe remind them how good they've got it.

Christmas Day is a big one on the calendar, but plenty of us have worked it over the years or spent it away from our families. These guys are on pretty good wickets and let's not forget that this is why these games are on.

Ian Foster (right) and Steve Hansen at the RWC quarterfinal in Tokyo in October.

Steve Hansen and Ian Foster. Photo: Photosport

I've been reading a bit about the 1924/25 'Invincibles' lately and men such as Southland flanker Son White.

Like many in that All Blacks team, White survived the first World War, having fought at Gallipoli, the Somme, Messines and Passchendaele.

He returned to New Zealand with shell shock but, partly through rugby, rebuilt his life and went on to play 34 games for the All Blacks.

The modern-day team cloak themselves in the achievements of men such as Son White, when it suits.

They lay wreaths and mutter the appropriate things about sacrifice, but don't appear to learn anything from it.

That 1924/25 side played 32 games in Britain, France and North America between September and February, on top of the lengthy boat trip.

They weren't paid and, in fact, accepting more than a pin to put on the lapel of their blazer meant jeopardising their amateur status and receiving a lifetime ban from rugby.

Adam Blair runs out to a guard of honour.

The Warriors earned the respect of their peers in the fractured 2020 season. Photo: PHOTOSPORT

Sure the world's a different place now, but that doesn't mean people want to hear these very well-paid players complain that Super Rugby's too hard or that they might miss Christmas.

People try not to resent the money, but they definitely take exception to talk of what a hard life our All Blacks have got.

If the Invincibles are too ancient, then how about the New Zealand Warriors?

Those players, including wings Ken Maumalo and David Fusitu'a, who couldn't stick it out in Australia, came home.

The rest lived in a bubble for more than five months, to ensure the NRL competition continued and that they kept being paid their own wages.

None of them whinged, none wondered aloud about why or how it had come to this. They simply accepted the unique situation they'd been presented with and got on with it.

In doing so, the Warriors won the respect of the rugby league community and, judging by the reports from the bases in Tamworth and then Terrigal, impressed everyone with their humility and courtesy.

Much of that was led by interim coach Todd Payten, whose example Foster might do well to follow.

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