The Ian Foster era nearly ended in a fairytale as Razor takes a clean slate

Four more years. That’s the harsh reality the All Blacks must come to terms with after a heartbreaking Rugby World Cup final defeat to South Africa by 12-11.

The All Blacks won the possession, territory, carries, clean breaks, rucks, defenders beaten, offloads and lineout count while having the measure of the Springboks scrum. Still, they lost the match 12-11. For 51 minutes they were without Sam Cane.

The All Blacks captain saw red for a tackle that made head contact with Springboks centre Jesse Kriel. Siya Kolisi and Eben Etzebeth escaped the strictest sanction for similar fouls.

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A straightforward penalty kick by Handre Pollard hit the post and rebounded over for three Springboks points. Richie Mo’unga and Jordie Barrett narrowly missed crucial kicks for New Zealand.

The cruel bounce of the ball. Ardie Savea was in for a try. Then he wasn’t.

In the 18th minute referee Wayne Barnes appears to apologise to Savea for an incorrect penalty. It cost the All Blacks three points.

All Blacks centre Reiko Ioane looked certain to score in the 36th minute. Then he’s tackled out by Kurt-Lee Arendse.

How did that Springboks asteroid crash into the Stade de France?

A try that Richie Mo’unga created for Aaron Smith was erased for a knock on at a lineout that had happened five phases earlier.

Protocols, which were updated in July 2022, stress incidents should only be reviewed “within two phases.”

A desperate ankle tap by Springboks halfback Faf de Klerk prevents Dalton Papalii from potentially creating a try.

How do you explain the sluggish start and consistently careless passing?

With the clock at 79:45, South Africa feeds a scrum near their own 22. After Barnes called “set”, the packs were steady for a good five seconds, yet de Klerk failed to put the ball in, as the All Blacks were putting on a good shove.

Typically, the sanction would be a free kick. Instead, a reset is called.

The ‘what ifs’ go on and on. They will do for years, and Pieter-Steph du Toit hasn’t been mentioned yet.

The Springboks openside was gargantuan with 28 crushing tackles. The still image of his missile shot to the side of Jordie Barrett’s chest, will (minus the punch) rank alongside Frik Du Preez tackling Chris Laidlaw in 1970 as an embodiment of Springboks toughness. Pieter-Steph du Toit, what a player. The Springboks, a nightmare.

It’s 1995 all over again, except it’s not.

The All Blacks were clearly the best team at the 1995 tournament, a juggernaut on an upwards accent. The following year retribution was brutal, historic, and sweet.

The All Blacks beat the Springboks four times and won a series in the republic after failures in 1928, 1949, 1960, 1970 and 1976.

By contrast the 2023 All Blacks are deeply flawed. While their recent courage and improvement is commendable, a vindication and redemption narrative romantic, the Ian Foster coached All Blacks (32 wins in 46 Tests) have the worst record of any All Blacks team in the professional era.

Between 2020 and 2023 the All Blacks had a losing record against their three strongest opponents, the Springboks (3-4), Ireland (2-3), and France (0-2).

Frighteningly four centurions, Aaron Smith, Sam Whitelock, Brodie Retallick and Beauden Barrett are set to depart in 2024. That represents the biggest cleanout in talent since 1998 when the likes of Sean Fitzpatrick, Frank Bunce and Zinzan Brooke retired.

Incoming coach Scott Robertson has enjoyed peerless success with the Crusaders. The most important player in that team is Richie Mo’unga. Razor described Mo’unga as his quarter back. Mo’unga is Japan bound.

What’s happened to Bill Belichick at the New England Patriots without Tom Brady? The Patriots haven’t won the Super Bowl.

Robertson’s task rebuilding the All Blacks is immense. His so far impeccable record suggests there is plenty to be excited about. It also adds greater pressure than what already exists to succeed.

How will the All Blacks culture and game plan change? Who will be the key players and personalities that help regain the Rugby World Cup in 2027?

Sam Cane looks likely to continue in New Zealand in 2024. Cane silenced his critics with an epic rearguard in the quarter final victory against Ireland. He is well regarded by his peers, but many of them are moving on. Does Cane have the endurance to last until 2027? Can he even keep the likes of Dalton Papalii, Billy Harmon, Du Plessis Kirifi and Tom Christie at bay in the next 12 months?

Here’s a brazen prediction. In four years, New Zealand Secondary Schools captain Ollie Mathis will be a household name.

Whitelock and Retallick are the most enduringly successful locking partnership in history. Replacing them is Robertson’s hardest task. Scott Barrett is at the peak of his career. He should last another World Cup cycle. He might even captain the All Blacks though his occasional petulance is an asterisk. Who will partner Barrett? Depth appears sparse.

Josh Lord and Tupou Vaa’i have been underwhelming but youth is on their side. Patience in the demanding position is required. Youngsters Fabian Holland, Tahlor Cahill, Zach Gallagher, and Jamie Hannah could emerge as contenders. With regular minutes, Manaaki Selby-Rickit could surface as a strong option. Caleb Delany, Dominic Gardiner, and Naitoa Ah Kuoi are locks or loose forwards with plenty of growth ahead.

Halfback is another considerable challenge. On the tenuous ground of having better defence Finlay Christie was surprisingly preferred to Cam Roigard in the final stages of the World Cup. If Antoine Dupont is the gold standard for a contemporary halfback, then Roigard is closer in approach than Christie.

Excellent Chiefs duo Xavier Roe and Cortez Ratama aren’t bad impersonators either. There is a lot of optimism about the ability of Noah Hotham.

First-five looks set to became Damien McKenzie’s jersey but who’s next? Ruben Love and Stephen Perofeta are enormously gifted but haven’t settled in one position. With his huge left foot and versatility Zarn Sullivan presents something genuinely different. Josh Jacomb was exceptional for Taranaki in their surge to the NPC Premiership. How would he fear in Super Rugby?

Roberston recruited Waikato first-five Taha Kemara to the Crusaders when he was at Hamilton Boys’ High School. Will the New Zealand Under 20s representative fulfil his promise?

Jordie Barret has successfully transitioned into All Blacks second-five. He looks set for a long stay. His combination with Reiko Ioane was resolute but lacks the fluidity and contrast of what Bundee Aki and Gary Ringrose share for Ireland. Unfortunately, there is no Aki like figure in New Zealand. Distribution remains an issue for Ioane. Dallas McLeod has a Ryan Crotty resemblance about him. Would that be better fit? Billy Procter is a coaches favourite. He’s a classical type of centre. Is there a place for David Havili? Daniel Rona could be a darkhorse down the line.

There is a lot to like about the future stock of tight forwards. Jason Ryan has done a sterling job bolstering a deflated pack after the 2022 series defeat to Ireland.

Tyrell Lomax, Tamati Williams, Fletcher Newell, Ollie Jager, Pouri Rakete-Stones, Xavier Numua, Asafo Aumua, George Bell, and Samisoni Taukei’aho are a wealth of riches to work with.

In August an independent governance review concluded the New Zealand Rugby (NZR) board is “not fit for purpose.” Competition restructure is likely due to unsustainable costs and fan apathy.

What will new competition look like? How will new competition effect player depth? Could global market forces seduce NZR into allowing overseas based players to be selected for the All Blacks. The Springboks do it and look at their record.

The Foster era so nearly ended in a fairytale. Instead, it will be remembered as turbulent. Razor represents a clean slate.

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