WELLINGTON (Reuters) - Ian Foster will be the first All Blacks boss without previous international head coaching experience since 2003 when he takes over next year but few know New Zealand rugby better than the former Waikato flyhalf.
Predecessors Graham Henry and Steve Hansen had both coached Wales before taking up the post as part of a coaching dynasty underpinned by assistant Wayne Smith that brought unprecedented success to an already highly successful team.
Foster’s promotion from assistant under Hansen on a two-year deal is an attempt to extend that dynasty but he knows as well as anyone he will be out the door long before the 2023 World Cup if he cannot keep the All Blacks winning.
The 54-year-old carved out a lengthy playing career with his home province of Waikato, for whom he made a record 148 appearances before taking part in the first three seasons of Super Rugby for the Waikato Chiefs.
The Waikato side of the early 1990s was a powerhouse in New Zealand rugby, winning the national championship in 1992, snapping Auckland’s record Ranfurly Shield run in 1993, and producing several All Blacks.
Foster, however, never made the step up to the national side alongside his Waikato team mates Warren Gatland, who has coached Ireland and Wales, and John Mitchell, the current assistant to England’s Eddie Jones.
He began his coaching career with Waikato in 2002 before replacing Kevin Greene at the Chiefs in 2004, taking them to their first playoff in his debut season where they lost in the semi-finals to the ACT Brumbies.
The Chiefs would not make the semi-finals again for five years, however, raising doubts about Foster’s coaching.
While they made the 2009 final, where they were thrashed by a superb Bulls side, the Chiefs spiralled downward for his last two seasons in charge, finishing 11th and 10th before he stepped down in 2011.
The following year Foster took control of the All Blacks’ backs under Hansen.
The backline boasted all-time greats Dan Carter, Conrad Smith and Ma’a Nonu, but Foster was also able to nurture talents like Beauden Barrett until their second successive World Cup triumph in 2015.
That Barrett-inspired backline took the All Blacks to new heights in 2016 but by the time British and Irish Lions arrived for their tour in 2017, opposing teams had worked out how to shut down their time and space.
Their inability to break down increasingly efficient defences, coupled with constant shuffling of the midfield selections, was criticised by pundits and is something Foster will need to address before his side meet Wales at Eden Park next July.
Additional writing by Nick Mulvenney; Editing by Peter Rutherford