CHRIS FOY: Ian Foster's All Blacks smelling Rugby World Cup redemption

CHRIS FOY: Ian Foster’s All Blacks are smelling redemption after many turned against them… Now the New Zealand coach has the chance to win the battle of wits with South Africa ringmaster Rassie Erasmus

  • Ian Foster’s All Blacks have the chance to claim their fourth Rugby World Cup
  • They’ll take on South Africa on Saturday in Paris, in a battle of two rugby giants
  • Foster will also go head-to-head with Springboks coach Rassie Erasmus  
  • Latest Rugby World Cup 2023 news, including fixtures, live scores and results

While the Springboks have been stuck in the harsh glare of scrutiny and controversy this week, Ian Foster has been quietly plotting the culmination of his redemption mission, in the World Cup Final.

To the north of the French capital, a low-key location has provided no respite for South Africa, who have soaked up all the attention while their great rivals have been lying low, to the west of the city. The All Blacks are not used to a relatively low profile but that has been their luxury this week, which will have provided welcome breathing space to the head coach who has overseen a startling revival.

Rewind 15 months and Foster was clinging to his job amid a national out-pouring of scorn over New Zealand’s dramatic fall from grace. But he survived the crisis, with significant support from former Ireland head coach Joe Schmidt, and Jason Ryan, who has orchestrated a transformation in the Kiwis’ forward play.

There have been further bumps in the road; with a record-breaking 35-7 defeat against the Boks at Twickenham at the end of August, followed by a loss to hosts France in the tournament opener here on September 8. 

But the All Blacks have forged on to stand on the brink of history. On Saturday night, they are favourites to win an epic decider between the southern superpowers, who are both striving to claim their fourth global title. 

The All Blacks can win their fourth Rugby World Cup title this weekend against South Africa, with Ian Foster’s side plotting redemption after a turbulent few years

New Zealand have been in training this week ready for the game, after booking their place in the final with a win against Argentina

Foster will come up against Spring Boks ringmaster Rassie Erasmus (pictured) 

Foster’s own country had turned against him, but they have turned back again. New Zealand is awash with renewed hope and expectation. The All Blacks have reclaimed their cherished status as the sporting beacon of Kiwi pride and identity.

‘The All Blacks have always had a special place in New Zealanders’ hearts,’ he said yesterday. ‘The amount of support we’ve got has been quite overwhelming. We are generally a conservative bunch – cynical at times. We show our love and support while criticising, yet that has swung around a little bit. Suddenly there is a lot of excitement from our country.’

History beckons 

Most World Cup titles

New Zealand 3

South Africa 3 

Australia 2

England 1 

This is the two nations’ 106th meeting. New Zealand have dominated the head-to-head 62-39, with four draws.

8 – New Zealand winger Will Jordan’s eight tries lead the way in this World Cup — no man has ever scored nine in a single tournament.

South Africa are the only team to have won every World Cup final they have played in, including v New Zealand in 1995.

Sam Whitelock, who is set to come off the bench for his 153rd All Black cap, can become the first man to win three World Cups.

Foster’s role in the grand occasion is hugely significant. By accepting, in the midst of major turmoil last summer, that his regime needed a revamp, he did what was needed to enhance his legacy – before the post-World Cup arrival of Scott Robertson to replace him. Foster was asked if he is at peace with what he has achieved and he said: ‘Yes, I’m reasonably peaceful. But I’m not sure I’m peaceful right now!’

When pressed on how he has recovered from the mid-cycle slump, he quipped: ‘I’ve just started to get my back nice and straight from last year and now you’re trying to make me hunched over again! It’s a tough game when people around you see things differently, but we’ve learned a lot about ourselves.’ As for his future, he added: ‘I’ve got ideas, but first I’m going to mow my lawns. I will be coaching though, by the way.’

New Zealand were champions in 1987, 2011 and 2015. They are striving to repeat the feat again, with the playing squad motivated by a desire to validate all the work Foster has done; work which was so widely and heavily derided for so long, as he sought to follow in the footsteps of illustrious predecessors Steve Hansen and Graham Henry.

Lock Brodie Retallick said: ‘We’ve seen what Fozzy went through off the field. He has come out of that and coached this group to where we needed to be. The ultimate way to pay respect is to get the job done on Saturday and show him how much the players have enjoyed having him as head coach.’

Jordie Barrett – such a revelation since shifting to inside centre – echoed those sentiments, adding: ‘It’s been great to see the players put some performances out there that reflect his coaching ability. There is no mistaking that we are under a lot of pressure; players and coaches. It was a rocky period but we are reaping the rewards now.’

Both of the finalists have recovered from pool-stage setbacks to reach this stage, as New Zealand had that opening-night defeat against France and South Africa were edged out by Ireland in a titanic encounter in Paris. 

Foster will not continue in his role as head coach after the World Cup and said he was at peace with the decision

The All Blacks last clinched the Rugby World Cup in 2015, having also won the tournament in 2011

South Africa meanwhile are the only team to have won every World Cup final they have played in, including v New Zealand in 1995

But they have reached towering peaks since then; the All Blacks in seeing off the Irish and the Boks in knocking out the hosts and escaping to victory over England last Saturday.

This is a culture clash on so many levels. The Boks continue to push the boundaries with their traffic lights, bonkers bench-split gambles, on-field physio-coaches, wind-up celebrations and so on, with Rassie Erasmus the circus ring-master, while the Kiwis have a more under-stated approach.

The All Blacks will know they have to muscle up, starting at the set piece, or face being pummelled by the Bomb Squad – with prop Ox Nche primed to wreak havoc again as a replacement Bok weapon of mass destruction. This will be perceived as a contest of power v pace, aggression v flair, but that is a crude summary. South Africa can run riot and New Zealand can bash if required.

If their pack can cope with the pending onslaught, the Kiwis are rightful favourites – but that is a big if, as the powerful Boks will seek to harness the angst from the racism controversy which has stalked them this week. Expect it to be close, with New Zealand capable of capping their revival crusade with title No 4, to prove that reports of their demise have been grossly exaggerated.

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