D-Day for Ian Foster: New Zealand Rugby faces now-or-never decision on All Blacks coach

New Zealand Rugby’s decision on All Blacks coach Ian Foster will be made by Thursday as the governing body confronts a fork in the road moment that offers no easy route forward.

The All Blacks are coming off a famous 35-23 win against the Springboks in Johannesburg, a performance that has ever-so-slightly softened the public sentiment around Foster’s future.

The nine-person NZ Rugby board is poised to meet on Wednesday and voting intentions are thought be ambiguous, with the Springboks victory giving some pause for thought on a question that looked settled just one week ago.

That in itself represents a shift in Foster’s favor, although insights from NZ Rugby chief executive Mark Robinson will also have a material bearing on the board’s decision.

With strong public backing from senior playersFoster engaged in talks with NZ Rugby on Tuesday with renewed purpose and momentum and has already stated that he expects to stay in charge for the upcoming tests against Argentina and beyond.

The next test in Christchurch is looming fast, on Saturday week.

A complicating factor is the currently strained relationship between Foster and Robinson, with dialogue between the pair understood to have been limited during the two tests in South Africa.

NZ Rugby head of high performance Mike Anthony, who has been involved in previous All Blacks reviews, is understood to be overseas on holiday.

New Zealand Rugby chief executive Mark Robinson

ELLA BATES-HERMANS / Stuff

New Zealand Rugby chief executive Mark Robinson

The public backing of some senior players – including from the traditionally conservative Crusaders lock Sam Whitelock – is a powerful asset for Foster.

Yet, Foster has also presided over two wins from the past seven tests and may have been the beneficiary of a lackluster Springboks performance, allied with some questionable selections, last weekend.

The opposing arguments both hold water, making the NZ Rugby decision one of the most challenging in its recent history.

It is clear that whatever decision NZ Rugby makes, it will put some stakeholders offside.

A desire to reflect the supporters’ frustrations is understood to have been behind Robinson’s “not acceptable” remark following the loss of the Ireland series, and if Foster carries on there will be many fans – particularly Scott Robertson supporters – lying in wait until the All Blacks’ next stumble.

That raises the prospect of the All Blacks being dogged by Foster questions even if he is backed through to the Rugby World Cup in 2023.

Those permutations must be weighed up by Robinson and the NZ Rugby board, although with the knowledge that whatever decision they make now is unlikely to end the public debate about the best candidate to coach the All Blacks.

All Blacks coach Ian Foster and NZR CEO Mark Robinson when he was announced in the job in 2019.

LAWRENCE SMITH / Stuff

All Blacks coach Ian Foster and NZR CEO Mark Robinson when he was announced in the job in 2019.

The nine-person board who will make the decision

Stewart Mitchell (chairman)

Mitchell has been on the board since 2014 and took over as chairman last year. He was previously the chairman of the Canterbury Rugby Union when they appointed Scott Robertson as coach.

Dr Farah Palmer

World Cup-winning former Black Ferns captain made history in 2021, becoming NZ Rugby’s first deputy chair. Palmer has extensive governance experience and a parallel academic career at Massey University, where she is a senior lecturer at the School of Management and director of the Māori Business and Leadership Center (Te Au Rangahau).

Ajit Balasingham

The former Northland chair has a background in the business advisory and accounting industries and has also served as the Blues’ interim chief executive. Balasingham was elected to the board last year.

Bart Campbell

Sports marketing expert who has spent decades overseas and has a strong association with the Melbourne Storm, where he was the chair until 2020. Campbell also sits on the powerful World Rugby Executive Committee.

Rowena Davenport

Former Otago chair has extensive management and governance experience in both the finance and legal professions. Long association with rugby started at the Eastern Rugby Club in Waikouaiti, about 40 minutes north of Dunedin.

Mark Hutton

The board member with the deepest experience of private equity and finance, having worked across various roles in the industries for three decades. Hutton has also served two three-year stints on the board of College Rifles Rugby Football Club in Auckland.

Bailey Mackey

The 2017 Māori Entrepreneur of the Year has strong links to the grassroots game through Ngāti Porou East Coast Rugby Union, where he has served as president. He ran for the NZ Rugby chairman’s position last year but was narrowly defeated by Stewart Mitchell.

Dame Patsy Reddy

The former governor-general was appointed to the board in April and has an extraordinary CV that spans the private and public sectors. A supporter of board diversity, Dame Patsy also cautioned in June that “we have to live in the real world. You have to make sure you’re not simply ticking boxes “.

Wayne Young

The former Tasman chair was elected to the NZ Rugby board in April, replacing Shaun Nixon. Young’s personal and professional support of Mako chief executive Lyndon Bray was seen as pivotal to the former referee taking the position.