OPINION: Sir Ian Foster – it has a nice ring to it.
The All Blacks coach has been ridiculed from pillar to post during his four-year tenure, but he’s silenced his critics by leading his side to the Rugby World Cup on Sunday morning (NZ time).
Now that he’s made the big dance, you must wonder if any All Blacks coach has ever been under as much pressure and through as much turmoil as Foster. This success could go down as the greatest redemption story in rugby history.
Do New Zealand rugby fans and NZ Rugby (NZR) owe Foster an apology?
From the moment he was appointed, Foster was always up against it, viewed as the public’s second choice, behind Crusaders darling Scott Robertson, and NZR never seemed to have complete faith in him, only offering an initial two-year deal.
The national body then broke from tradition to appoint Robertson as the next All Blacks coach in March, rather than waiting until after the World Cup and risk losing him to offshore recruitment bids.
What has stood out during these four years is, when push came to shove and Foster’s back was against the wall, he and the All Blacks have found a way to bounce back. Over the last 15 months, they have been playing to silence his critics.
Foster’s tenure didn’t start well, with just two wins – plus a draw – from his first five matches in charge. After a brief rebound the following year, things took a turn for the worse, with only two wins in an eight-game span – including historic home defeats to Ireland and Argentina in 2022.
Many called for Foster to be axed – an unprecedented move – but when things mattered most, the All Blacks came up big, with an impressive victory over the Springboks at Ellis Park.
Fast forward 12 months to Twickenham in August and the train again seemed to come off the track, with a record demolition by South Africa.
Those misgivings were compounded, when Foster’s men lost the opening game of the World Cup, but once again, they rebounded in the face of adversity to upset world No.1 Ireland in the quarter-finals.
The rest is history, with the All Blacks progressing to the decider at Stade de France against, who else, South Africa.
What’s also gone under the radar is Foster has never lost the Rugby Championship or Bledisloe Cup – two major trophies on offer every year.
If you offered him, the players and any All Blacks fan that record in 2019, they would have signed for it in a heartbeat.
Now the question is should Foster be knighted? Much will come down to the outcome of the final, but if the All Blacks get up to beat the Springboks, that seems almost inevitable.
Every All Blacks coach who has won the Rugby World Cup has been knighted – Sir Brian Lochore, Sir Graham Henry and Sir Steve Hansen – so why not Sir Ian Foster?
Even a change of Government might help his cause. During the Newshub leaders debate last month, Prime Minister-elect Christopher Luxon said he would knight Foster, if the All Blacks win the World Cup.
While it might seem coaching the All Blacks to World Cup success would get you knighted, that’s not necessarily the case. You get knighted for your service to rugby.
Foster has coached for more than two decades, starting with Waikato, before moving up the ranks to the Chiefs, Junior All Blacks, an All Blacks assistant coach for eight years and finally head coach for the past four.
Going back even further, he played 148 times for Waikato – a union record – and 26 times for the Chiefs in a 14-year playing career.
In total, he’s given 38 years of life to rugby – that’s a lot of service.
If the All Blacks beat the Springboks on Sunday, Luxon should recommend Foster for a knighthood.
Not only that, All Blacks fans and NZ Rugby should all apologise for the poor treatment he has received.
It would only be fitting if Foster, arguably the most scorned All Blacks coach in history, has the last laugh over his critics with a victory at Stade de France and a deserved knighthood.
Will Hewett is a Newshub online producer. Join Newshub at 8am Sunday for live updates of the All Blacks v South Africa World Cup final