All Blacks coach Ian Foster’s response to controversy showed arrogance, no grace, comment piece

If anyone should have had a sense of the tight margins in sport and the agony and ecstasy of international rugby, it was Ian Foster.

The All Blacks coach had been through the wringer over the past two months, having survived by the skin of his teeth by a stunning, dramatic and controversial victory over the Springboks at Ellis Park.

And yet, despite being muzzled by the All Blacks following their series defeat to Ireland in July, Foster showed not an ounce of empathy for his trans-Tasman rivals after his side benefitted from a controversial, unprecedented decision by French referee Mathieu Raynal to award the All Blacks a late free kick after Bernard Foley took too long to take a penalty.

In what was one of the most remarkable decisions in international rugby history, a decision Wallabies coach Dave Rennie, captain James Slipper and acting All Blacks skipper Sam Whitelock had never seen before, Foster was cold-hearted, insincere and disingenuous in his post-match comments.

Above all, his comments lacked grace.

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It was a stark contrast to those around him, who recognised the occasion and the nature of the decision. 

Not Foster, however, the once cool-headed, well-liked assistant who has developed a reputation befitting the arrogance that has crept into New Zealand rugby in recent years. Asked what he made of the end of the game, the “delay of play call against the Wallabies”, Foster was completely dismissive of the notion the home side was hard done by and instead said the correct decision was made.

“I thought it was very clear-cut,” he said.

“They were delaying the kick. He said ‘time off’. He warned him then he said ‘time off’ and then he said to ‘speed up’ then he said ‘time on’. Then he asked him twice to kick it.

“I understand there is a contentious nature about it but it was very clear cut from the opposition.”

Yet shortly after Whitelock, who was playing his 139th Test, admitted he had never seen a decision like that.

“To answer your first part of the question, no I haven’t had that happen to me in a game whether for or against the side I’m playing for,” he said.

“You’ve got to make sure you’ve got a good plan to close out a game whether you’re up by one point or up by more.

“Slips and I have known each other for a long time and he said ‘look, we’ve just got to be better than that’ and he’s spot on.

“It’s something that I know that they will review and look at it, and they’ll make sure that it doesn’t happen again.”

Before another question was asked, Foster interjected, reiterating why he felt the correct decision was made.

“Can I just say, that as a part of your game management is to listen to the referee,” he said.

“So when the referee says ‘time on’ you have to play it.”

By doing so, Foster showed not an ounce of grace.

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His comments represented a man who failed to see the bigger picture, caught up in his own survival after a torrid tenure since taking over from Steve Hansen.

By comparison, Wallabies head coach Dave Rennie said the moment lacked a “feel” for the game.

“I think you’ve got to have a feel, a feel for the game and the situation,” he said.

“And so if you feel a team’s wasting time then stop the clock, and then they kick it out, and then you play the game and the teams decide it. So just a real lack of feel for the situation.”

During his post-match interview on field, Slipper asked the interviewee to repeat the question because he could not hear it.

The moment went some way in revealing how noisy it was inside the closed-roof stadium, where Foley was pinged for taking too long to kick for touch after the Wallabies won a penalty.

Before that, Slipper refused to make an excuse for the heartbreaking loss, instead paying credit to the All Blacks’ ability to seize the moment.

“Well it’s hard to see it from where I was on the bench but we were confident,” he said.

“I feel like we had the momentum for the last 20 minutes.

“Look, the All Blacks are a good team and when you play the All Blacks you’ve got to make everything count, you’ve got to make everything count, you’ve got to take your opportunities and everything in that last 20 minutes was in our hands and we blew it.”

His teammate Jed Holloway, too, refused to lay the boot into the referee.

“We had all the momentum there but just disappointing we couldn’t put it to the corner and get a contest there but the ref’s got a job to do and ref the way he sees it and that’s what we saw and we weren’t good enough,” he said.

“Props to New Zealand, they were great, they’re a world class team, they have been for 20 years now, so we need to go back to the drawing board and get better.”

In those comments, the Wallabies showed a class and sporting understanding of the moment that Foster failed to grasp.

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