Laurie Mains says Ian Foster can turn the All Blacks’ fortunes around, but only if there are changes to the game plan.
Mains, who coached the All Blacks between 1992 and 1995, feels there is enough quality in the All Blacks squad to return to winning ways, but that the game plan needs to be reshaped as it’s clear that what they’re doing now isn’t working.
He is also sympathetic to what Foster is going through, with the national team losing four of their last five tests, Mains believes Foster has come under more pressure than any All Blacks coach previously has.
“There is always pressure on an All Blacks coach,” Mains said.
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“The rugby family in New Zealand doesn’t want the All Blacks to ever lose and they think it’s possible they can carry on winning. But it simply isn’t possible.
“I think Ian is under more pressure than an All Blacks coach has had before, because the media scrutinises more intensively than it used to and social media is much more active. So those things create pressure.
“To be honest, I have a great deal of sympathy for Ian. He went into that job wanting to do his best of him and things haven’t quite worked out for him.
“The comment I would make, and this could be determined in two different ways, is that if you carry on doing the same thing, you can’t expect to change the results.
“We did hear a few years ago that the All Blacks had this new game plan coming on and with Ian being the backs coach at the time, he would have been an integral part of that.
“But we really didn’t see any change, other than dropping Ben Smith and Beauden Barrett being put to fullback and I don’t think that made a significant difference.”
There have been minimal changes to the All Blacks squad for the Rugby Championshipwith prop Ethan de Groot and loose forward Shannon Frizell earning recalls in place of Karl Tu’inukuafe and Pita Gus Sowakula.
Mains doesn’t feel there needed to be a clear out after the series loss to Irelandbecause players weren’t the issue.
“We’re very strong with our player resources, particularly our backs. But they look very disjointed, ”he said.
“The Irish exposed that and the French did a year ago.
“That comes about because of a couple of reasons. I don’t think it’s the ability of our players, it’s just that they’re not performing at their best.
“The reason for that, which is where the coaches’ responsibilities lie, is that they need to come up with a game plan that suits the group of players involved.
“Then it’s his job to make sure every player in the squad understands the game plan and their role in making it work.”
Mains feels it is possible for Foster to inspire change with the All Blacks and remembers when he had to do something similar.
“They’ve got to come up with the ideas and analysis of what’s been going wrong and what’s happening in rugby today, where the strong defensive areas are. Then develop a plan to overcome that, ”he said.
“To be honest it’s not that difficult to do. Earle Kirton (former All Blacks selector and assistant coach) and I had to do it for the 1995 World Cup, because we thought the other teams around the world had caught up with All Black rugby.
“So we spent the whole of a summer working on changes and in 1995 we produced some very good rugby.
“This is what Ian Foster and his coaching team need to be able to do. If they can’t do that, then they’re not the right people for the job. “
It was never an overwhelming popular decision for Foster to replace Sir Steve Hansen as All Blacks coach, with plenty of people feeling Scott Robertson should have got the job, because of his success with the Crusaders.
But in the end, it was decided to promote from within, with Foster moving up from being an assistant coach, the same as what happened when Hansen replaced Sir Graham Henry.
“I’m not a great fan of what appears to be happening with continuity in the All Blacks, by putting the assistant coach up as the coach, after a coach retires. Because you don’t get change, ”Mains said.
“If you keep the same people there all the time, you don’t get change, unless those people are capable of making significant changes with their own coaching.
“I think it’s something New Zealand Rugby needs to have a close look at. I was devastated when Jamie Joseph and Dave Rennie, coaches I rate highly and both had won Super Rugby titles, ended up coaching overseas and that for me is a major disappointment for New Zealand rugby.
“Now I don’t know what’s going to happen with our other successful Super Rugby coaches. The message isn’t getting out there that if you produce the goods, you get the rewards. “