All Blacks coach Ian Foster and NZ Rugby CEO Mark Robinson. Photo / Photosport
In British football, they call it the dreaded vote of confidence where the chairman of the club declares the beleaguered manager has the total support of the board only to be fired shortly after
the next game.
Right now, Ian Foster would love a public endorsement of his abilities where he hears his employer offer unequivocal support no matter what New Zealand Rugby’s true feelings are or what their intent might be.
He’s preparing a team to take on the toughest assignment in rugby and he’s doing so with the world knowing that he’s got this test and next to save his job.
And we know this because his employer has failed to take multiple opportunities in these last few weeks to stand by Foster, wrap both a literal and metaphorical arm around him and give him the courtesy of a dreaded vote of confidence.
The more this saga drags on, the more that NZR looks like it’s in the business of high drama rather than high performance.
Foster may not have won enough tests as a coach and he apparently hasn’t won many hearts and minds in the rugby fraternity, but he should absolutely have won the full and public support of his employer.
It’s the unwritten rule in professional sport that a coach is backed right up until he’s sacked.
The All Blacks have lost four of their five tests, which has been enough for the public and media to lose their faith in Foster, but NZR chief executive Mark Robinson should be walking the streets, wearing the sandwich board that says the end of the world is not night and that the All Blacks coach has got this.
These last few weeks have been the time for a public show of unity between the All Blacks coach and the NZR chief executive.
The Twittersphere has lost the plot, the fan base is disillusioned, and the media contingent is unable to see an evidential basis that the current set-up is working.
The mighty All Blacks empire is in danger of falling and instead of playing the role of Julius Caesar, Robinson has cast himself as Brutus in the thick of it almost with the conspirators who believe that the emperor must be removed for the greater good.
Robinson, it seems, can’t bring himself to stand by Foster’s side and tell the New Zealand public that the right man is in charge of the All Blacks.
Instead, he’s treated Foster like a teenager at a school function with their parents – painfully embarrassed by the association and eager to portray they had no part in making it.
The first sign of disunity came the day after the All Blacks had lost the series to Ireland and Robinson sent out a statement that called the performance unacceptable while hinting vaguely at a need for greater consideration of where to go from here. The only document with greater ambiguity would be Shakira’s tax returns.
We all knew the performances had been unacceptable, but it’s Robinson’s job to be the one person in the world who doesn’t actually say that out loud.
Just as it was his job to be by Foster’s side when the Rugby Championship squad was announced.
There were coaching changes in the pipeline by then and as they involved employment processes, that felt very much like it was the responsibility of the chief executive to be fielding the inevitable media questions.
But no, Foster was on his lonesome, looking a little like the abandoned pet at the rescue center who had just realized that their owner wasn’t coming back to pick them up.
When Robinson did finally take his chance to get behind Foster by agreeing to an interview with Jason Pine at Newstalk ZB, he did put down a hard narrative that the incumbent had his full support.
Unfortunately for Foster, though, that support comes with an extremely limited warranty which expires after the series with South Africa.
There is no back him until you sack him going on here and what’s surprising the South African rugby community is not that the All Blacks have hit a rough patch on the field, but that it is being handled so shambolically off it.
They have been through ample coaching sagas of their own over the years and know that they only become major dramas if the executives who preside over fixing these matters can’t do it quickly and professionally.