nThe tipping point of New Zealand rugby appears to be near. alarmist? Perhaps. Yet as the All Blacks embark on a defined South African tour, New Zealand become increasingly impatient for signs of a revival of their iconic rugby tradition.
Massive venting ignited after the All Blacks lost against Ireland in Wellington two weeks earlier – a result that saw Ian Foster widely ridiculed for his first home series defeat in 27 years, his first against the Irish and It was his fourth defeat in five Tests. ,
Why the anger Such a sharp plateau creates a unified condemnation through New Zealand’s social and political divide.
Six days of silence were observed when the All Blacks and New Zealand Rugby held high-level meetings behind closed doors. Information Zero fueled wild speculation, with calls for the sacking of everyone from the coach to the captain.
Foster has now survived despite a record of at least 66.7% winnings, which ranks him as the worst All Black coach in the professional era.
In a defiant, emotional address last week, Foster attempted to combat the rising red haze. Yet he can secure his future only by making immediate changes in two brutal Tests at the Highveld in South Africa.
There have been casualties in the form of All Blacks forward coach John Plumtree and Attack mentor Brad Moore – both showing the door for the 2023 World Cup just months after re-signing.
The sacking of the coach mid-term is a cut-off notion far more aligned with European football than uber-conservative New Zealand rugby, reflecting continued public pressure and a constant demand for change.
While rugby’s ranking requires theorization of Pythagoras to fathom, the All Blacks aptly reflects their struggles, falling to fourth place for the first time.
For the vocal undefeated, the circumstances surrounding Foster’s accession to the All Blacks throne—after eight years as Steve Hansen’s assistant on the continuation ticket—and the team’s subsequent malaise, make for an obvious cause of death.
A challenging Covid scenario has been unkind to Foster’s troubled tenure, but the now-obvious erosion of the All Blacks, and their fear factor, can be traced back to the 2017 British and Irish Lions series and the crushed World Cup semi-two years. After the final defeat to England.
Like climate change deniers, many New Zealand rugby fans refuse to accept that changing the guard is possible or that there are deeper issues at play than the coach.
While New Zealand rugby boasts a legacy of success, unrealistic expectations that the All Blacks win every Test were tied to the dominance of the Untouchables at the close of 2012–2016 which lost twice in five years.
The All Blacks at the time make a compelling argument for New Zealand’s best team ever. Only now, in a time of extreme despair and calls for a coaching cleanout, are his exploits truly appreciated. His likes will probably never be seen again.
Further coaching changes could help improve the fortunes of the All Blacks, but that theory is ruling out the northern nations’ significant improvement since 2015, with France and Ireland now leading the charge.
The gap at the top has closed – and there is every reason to believe that it will remain that way.
From New Zealand’s point of view, a total reset may be needed. Quick-fix solutions like the introduction of six-time Super Rugby winning Crusaders coach Scott Robertson may not provide an immediate cure.
Written and under siege while facing rugby’s toughest task, the All Blacks could silence their skeptics by pulling off an upset win against the world champion Springboks in the coming weeks.
But even in that utopian scenario, the deeper issues of New Zealand rugby will go unnoticed. Explore the surface and a plethora of challenges emerge.
This week Hansen launched a scathing attack that laid responsibility for a series of setbacks at the feet of the New Zealand Rugby Board, saying the relationship between the board and the players was “probably the worst it has ever been”.
Other issues include the number of teenage boys playing rugby at alarming rates for the past eight years – up from 17% in 2018, a time when basketball’s popularity grew by 41%. This can be partly attributed to the commercialization of schoolboy rugby, and the lack of attention paid to those below the first XV of the elite. In Auckland alone the number of secondary school rugby teams fell from 225 to 181 between 2013 and 2018.
This grassroots view, where many clubs have merged and amalgamated, also has a profound effect on participation and engagement, while crowds and ratings for the elite sport are declining.
New Zealand’s talent development, especially that of the once dominant team of the Under-20s, has been in decline since 2017, before a sudden revival this season.
In the professional arena this year’s 12-team Super Rugby competition was redrawn, lacking the contrasting, confrontational styles. The absence of South Africa and, to a lesser extent, Argentina, leaves largely homogenous competitions that do not prepare New Zealand’s players for the belligerent, suffocating Test arena. And while a recent $200m deal with US private investment firm Silver Lake provides financial security, the potential long-term pressure points of that arrangement remain unclear.
As Blues coach Leon Macdonald noted earlier this year, the dwindling depth is another concern. From Major League Rugby in America to Japan and Europe, New Zealand stocks are most popular for loot.
“It’s an issue,” McDonald said. “The depth of our players is becoming less and less. It’s something we’ve seen that it’s getting harder and harder to find the players we need.”
A golden all black era masked creek that has developed in the crevices. But as the treasured pyramid head now threatens to collapse, the Shaky Isles rumble at the start of a reckoning with their national game.