Kafer Column: Let's not get carried away by Wallabies performance, but Foster failed first All Blacks Test

International
by Rod Kafer

As the saying goes, one hot day does not make a summer.

As such, one draw in New Zealand is not a revival of Wallaby Rugby, and it’s easy for the pundits to get carried away. So let’s not.

Test match rugby is only about winning - nothing else. A draw is not a win, even on a day where I cannot recall a worse All Black performance, nor did the Wallabies have the capacity to close the game out. Disappointing, for sure. Encouraging, absolutely – but only if we move forward and not back.

Many things went wrong for the All Blacks in Wellington and it started way before kick off. In Ian Foster’s first big moment as head coach, he erred, and erred in what former Wallaby coach John Connolly describes as the head coach’s number one rule – to be a great selector.

I would have thought if the All Blacks had learnt anything from Michael Cheika’s reign as Wallabies coach, it would have been spinning a chicken wheel to try and fit your best 15 players into jersey 1-15 is a sure way to slide from 2nd in the world to 7th.

When the All Blacks side was announced, I was amazed that the lessons of 2019 had all but been forgotten – where in Steve Hansen’s penultimate All Black team he played Scott Barrett out of position at 6, only to be exposed by the English backrow and was bundled out of the race to win the RWC.

‘Fozzie’ was there, did he forget how Beaudan Barret - surely in the top three All Black fly-halves of all time - had also been moved out of position and the All Blacks suffered?

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Twelve months later and it got even worse – a third Barrett brother was moved out of position. Has he got something against the Barretts, I wonder? Did the old man lay one on him when Wellington played Waikato back in the day. A generational square up? Jordie onto the wing, Beaudan into fullback – then out with an Achilles injury unable to run (which did not prevent him from running water during the match ... the plot thickens). Foster had the opportunity to put one Barrett - the inform Barrett - into the position he dominated during Super Rugby Aotearoa, but he selected him on the wing and brings a guy into fullback, Damian McKenzie, who for the last two seasons has been groomed as an All Black 10 at the Chiefs, on a windy wet day in Wellington, who has failed under the high ball before.

Then out of the classic Cheika playbook, he doubles down and picks his own version of David Pocock/Michael Hooper in Ardie Savea/Sam Cane and turns the most damaging forward runner in the game, into a ruck watching bystander.

Even at outside centre, Foster erred. Sure, the Blues were good during Super Rugby, and maybe Reiko Ioane deserved the 13 jersey on form, but I think Steve Hansen worked Reiko out. He is a player who is selfish and can let you down in the big moments. He’s not to be trusted in big matches. It must have been a brain fade from Fozzie – the last thing I want to see now is his picture in one of the NZ papers with a clown suit on.

It's way too early for that, but selecting good players out of position to make way for other good players is a script I saw for way too long. It only leads one way - the circus.

Remember all those open sides who came along during Richie McCaw’s time; all the young number 10s pressing Dan Carter; all the fullbacks vying for Mils Muliaina’s spot; the looseheads after Tony Woodcock; hookers after Keven Mealamu; or centres after Conrad Smith and Ma’a Nonu? There were plenty, many who could have been exceptional, and yet Graham Henry and Hansen picked and sticked.

READ MORE:

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'REPLAYED HUNDREDS OF TIMES': Hodge opens up on THAT Bledisloe kick


I know it's a new era. I know players have moved on and retired. But the one thing that has created the All Blacks dynasty has been consistency of selection. I am sure that lesson will only be forgotten once.

The Wallabies will feel the fight back from the All Blacks - that is certain. They do not like being criticised, and behind the shed sweeping aura they espouse, is a single-minded, narcissistic and ego driven way of life that you have to be to be an All Black.

That pride in performance that the All Blacks curate is something the Wallabies could learn a lot from.

The Wallabies need to be a lot better in many aspects of their game to match it with ABs at Eden Park. We will learn how far they have come on Sunday, and very soon whether the selection panel has learnt from its recent history.

This article expresses the views of the author and does not necessarily represent the views of Rugby Australia or its member unions.