All Blacks face Pumas in ‘new dawn’ for New Zealand rugby

August 25, 2022 GMT
New Zealand's David Havili, bottom, scores a try during the Rugby Championship test between South Africa and New Zealand at Ellis Park Stadium in Johannesburg, South Africa, Saturday, Aug. 13, 2022. (AP Photo/Themba Hadebe)
New Zealand's David Havili, bottom, scores a try during the Rugby Championship test between South Africa and New Zealand at Ellis Park Stadium in Johannesburg, South Africa, Saturday, Aug. 13, 2022. (AP Photo/Themba Hadebe)
New Zealand's David Havili, bottom, scores a try during the Rugby Championship test between South Africa and New Zealand at Ellis Park Stadium in Johannesburg, South Africa, Saturday, Aug. 13, 2022. (AP Photo/Themba Hadebe)
1 of 8
New Zealand's David Havili, bottom, scores a try during the Rugby Championship test between South Africa and New Zealand at Ellis Park Stadium in Johannesburg, South Africa, Saturday, Aug. 13, 2022. (AP Photo/Themba Hadebe)
1 of 8
New Zealand's David Havili, bottom, scores a try during the Rugby Championship test between South Africa and New Zealand at Ellis Park Stadium in Johannesburg, South Africa, Saturday, Aug. 13, 2022. (AP Photo/Themba Hadebe)

WELLINGTON, New Zealand (AP) — The Rugby Championship test between New Zealand and Argentina at Christchurch on Saturday is supposed to be a “new dawn” for the All Blacks.

Fans know this because New Zealand Rugby told them so. When it recently reappointed head coach Ian Foster through the 2023 World Cup, NZR was effusive in its praise. It said Foster was the only man who could lead the All Blacks into this new era.

Setting aside the fact that the All Blacks under Foster have won only two of their last seven tests, NZR’s chairman and chief executive Mark Robinson portrayed him as a visionary who would take New Zealand back to the peak of world rugby. The All Blacks currently languish at fifth place, their lowest-ever world ranking.

Robinson wasn’t clear on what might happen if the All Blacks lose to Argentina on Saturday, other than that the new dawn would be momentarily postponed.

ADVERTISEMENT

A loss to Argentina is something All Blacks supporters normally would not consider likely. The All Blacks hadn’t lost to the Pumas in 29 tests until Foster became the first coach to experience a defeat in 2020.

The Pumas squad that the All Blacks face in the first test in Christchurch in six years may be one of the most formidable they have ever faced. The team has been re-energized by former Wallabies coach Michael Cheika and goes into the match on the back of a 48-17 win over Australia.

The All Blacks will attempt to back up the win over the World Cup champion Springboks in South Africa two weeks ago which made it possible for New Zealand Rugby to throw its backing behind Foster. The win in Johannesburg was a vital one for a beleaguered coach and team but will count for nothing if the All Blacks don’t win again against the Pumas.

Foster realizes the one win over South Africa in not enough to take the “weight off” the All Blacks or relieve public concern about their form — an informal survey on a New Zealand media website showed more than 80% of respondents opposed Foster’s reappointment.

“There’s plenty of pressure around playing for the All Blacks. It’s learning how to deal with that,” Foster said. “It comes in different forms and shapes. Sometimes it’s geared at people, sometimes it’s geared at performance. You have to make sure you keep embracing that.

ADVERTISEMENT

“We know one win doesn’t mean a lot. We want to keep growing this year. We have a championship to win and we want to keep focused on that.”

The All Blacks did make significant improvements against the Springboks after losing the first test 26-10. They picked two younger props who improved the set piece performance and mobility in the loose. Richie Mo’unga stepped in for Beauden Barrett at flyhalf and eliminated the aimless kicking which has been part of the All Blacks’ game. Mo’unga also sharpened the All Blacks’ attack.

Those changes might in part be due to the former Ireland head coach Joe Schmidt, who took a more hands-on role in preparing the New Zealand team for the first time. If All Blacks fans have any hope for the team it is that Schmidt might bring more direction.

ADVERTISEMENT

Cheika, more than anyone, might understand the pressure Foster has been under. He experienced similar opposition when he coached Australia to 34 wins in 68 tests, peaking early with a run to the 2015 World Cup final. Enjoying a new lease on life as Pumas coach, Cheika said Foster also should be enjoying the pressure of coaching the All Blacks.

“He’s the coach of New Zealand. They’re one of the best countries in the world in rugby,” Chieka said in a New Zealand television interview. “He’ll be loving it. Even when it’s tough it doesn’t matter. That comes with the territory of footy - it gets tough.”

Cheika said the national head coaching role is a “brilliant” post to hold.

“It’s a great honor if you’re in that position and you love it,” he said. “You get to go out and be involved in footy every day. It doesn’t matter how tough it gets, it’s part of the game just like when you’re a player.”

___

More AP rugby: https://apnews.com/hub/rugby and https://twitter.com/AP_Sports