Ian Foster appeared more relaxed than ever before as he joked his way through his final press conference before his last game in charge of the All Blacks.
Foster’s fate was sealed earlier this year when New Zealand Rugby decided his journey in the revered job would end with the team’s last shots being fired in France. He revealed his next job after the tournament – mowing his lawns – but did promise his coaching career was going to continue.
He could bow out drenched in champagne rather than insults and vitriol, with the All Blacks one win over South Africa from lifting the Webb Ellis Cup for a record fourth time.
Foster was able to name a tough and experienced team for his final game and that of many of his key men. The All Blacks social media team dubbed it ”Last Dance 2023″ on their team announcement content – a nod to the Michael Jordan documentary about his final season with the Chicago Bulls.
He was asked on Friday (AEDT) if he was “at peace” with his situation – the type of question you might expect for a prisoner on death row.
“Am I at peace? What do you mean? Yeah, I’m reasonably peaceful. I love the word but I’m not sure I’m peaceful right now,” Foster answered.
“We are where we want to be. We may have lost to France at the start of this tournament but this team has thrived on focusing on the now. It’s something we’ve loved doing, it enables us to deal with any outside noise around the team.
“That’s massive credit to Sam [Cane] and the leaders that we’ve been able to stay in that place. We’ve woken up this week and we’re in a World Cup final and we’re excited. Right now we’re trying to balance the emotion of it, the messages we’re getting from back home and all around France – massive thanks to all the support we have had.
“But we are just focusing on playing a massive game with a smile on their face. We know there are two different styles. They’re great at their style, we’re great at ours.”
The South African style is a forward power game and Springboks coaches Rassie Erasmus and Jacques Nienaber have leaned into that heavily by naming a forward pack with seven forwards and Willie le Roux as the sole backline specialist.
“It’s what I love about the game. People try different tactics,” Foster insisted. “They’ve got their way of playing and we’ve got ours. It doesn’t change the way we prepare. Their strategy suits them, ours suits us and it makes it interesting on Saturday night.”
Foster has opted for a 5-3 split and was again in a joking mood when asked if that was a reaction to the Springboks’ show of strength. The Boks used the 7-1 split in their match against New Zealand before the tournament, where the Kiwis were overwhelmed due to losing players through cards at key times.
“We doubled up with their split by just playing with 14 men, and then 13 men, for parts of that game,” Foster joked.
“We tried that clever strategy and decided we didn’t like it so we’re going to try a different strategy this week.”
Foster has suffered plenty of criticism over the past two years and he was asked about how tought that was for him to bear.
“I’ve just started to get my back nice and straight from last year and now you’re trying to make me hunched over again! It’s the life of this business, it’s a tough game,” he said.
“It’s tough when you’re trying to get your performance right. It’s a tough game when people around you see things differently, but we’ve learned a lot about ourselves.
“We take massive pride in the jersey and making sure we reach the levels we want to. The rest of that is probably a conversation for another day.
“It hasn’t altered our vision of where we want this team to be. I know we’ve surprised a few people but I don’t think we’ve surprised ourselves.”
Foster gave the all clear for Richie Mounga despite reports back in NZ that the No.10 was carrying an injury. He also had to make the tough call to leave Dane Coles out – meaning the feisty hooker, who is retiring from rugby, has played his final game.
“Yeah, tough. We don’t want to talk too much about post-game stuff, but that was a tough one, probably the toughest I have had as a coach,” said Foster. “He took it the way I expected him to. He’s a champion.”
Foster too, could bow out a champion, despite all the words. He’ll no doubt have his suitors in the game – Japan seems the likeliest destination – and he seems relaxed about that too.
“I’ve got lots of ideas but first I’m going to mow my lawns. I will be coaching though, by the way.”