December 10, 2023

Robertson’s international inexperience ‘doesn’t matter’ in All Blacks race

Scott Robertson.

Scott Robertson’s lack of experience as a test coach should not have any impact on his chances of succeeding Ian Foster at the helm of the All Blacks, insists Sir John Kirwan.

Last week, Foster confirmed he would not re-apply for his job, with Robertson looming as one of the frontrunners to replace him.

The former All Blacks flanker has known nothing but success as Crudaders head coach, winning six Super Rugby titles in the last six years and shooting for seven in 2023.

But despite his success, Robertson, 48, was overlooked during the same process in 2019, as New Zealand Rugby backed Foster to step up, after seven years as an assistant to Sir Steve Hansen.

Despite winning the 2015 U20 Rugby World Cup with the ‘Baby Blacks’, Robertson’s lack of experience at test level is understood to have counted against him.

This time, the same rules should not apply to the selection process, Sir John has told Sky Sport’s the Breakdown.

“I believe he’s committed to New Zealand Rugby, stayed here and won six titles,” said Kirwan. “I think he’s an amazing leader of a new generation of players. 

“I think he’ll get a good group around him. It’s a pretty good choice, if he got it, I’d be stoked.

“Who they bring, I think matters, but if you’re going there and you sit down, does it really matter that Razor doesn’t have international experience? I don’t think it does anymore.”

As an organisation, NZ Rugby has long been considered conservative in its decision-making, but by appointing the next All Blacks coach before this year’s World Cup, the national body has shown it’s willing to do something new.

For veteran commentator Tony Johnson, that move signals NZ Rugby is prepared to break the mould – potentially in Robertson’s favour.

“In the past, they’ve always wanted someone with international experience,” said Johnson. “That’s the one thing that Scott Robertson doesn’t have.

“To appoint him would be a bit of a break from tradition.

“That has been a rule of thumb, up until now. Maybe it is time to make a break from tradition, do something a little different.

“I have no doubt, at the moment, Scott Robertson has the inside running for this job.” 

However, Robertson’s path to the top is far from clear.

Current Japan coach Jamie Joseph is also considered a frontrunner for the job in an effective two-horse race, after NZ Rugby ruled out Dave Rennie.

Former Ireland boss and current All Blacks assistant Joe Schmidt could also be a darkhorse, but has made it clear he doesn’t want a head-coaching role in the future.

Joseph and Schmidt both have Robertson covered in terms of international experience, but former All Blacks loose forward Steven Bates also buys into the idea of the right coach being the right coach, regardless of previous roles. 

“Is international experience crucial now?” asked Bates. “I think if you’re current in the game, you know how to coach rugby, you know how to coach players, and you know how to set up and pull apart another team’s gameplan, as long as you’re relevant in that space at a high level, that’s good enough.

“Be it Jamie in Japan, be it Joe [whose] done it for years and years, be it Razor down in Christchurch or someone else.

“If you’ve got those skills to bring it together, that’s enough, in my opinion.”

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