Politics and Pragmatism
In retaining Foster and elevating Schmidt to a more strategic role, the NZR has made both a political arse-saving decision and a sensibly pragmatic one. Fundamentally, of course, this was always about fixing up a public relations mess of their own making.
And what a mess. Given the public uproar over the All Blacks’ performances, It seemed almost certain a week ago that Foster was gone for all money. And I have little doubt that Robinson was on hand in South Africa to accept his ‘resignation’ after the Ellis Park test.
But the ABs’ beating the Boks against all the odds in game II mucked up the plan, leaving Robinson to convene that bizarre media conference in Johannesburg at which he said nothing of substance, while conveying what most of us have known all along - that the real villains in this saga are the NZR board themselves - an indecisive, directionless and poorly organised rabble whose original appointment of Foster in the face of better alternatives was both a poor choice and one they have been scrambling to make up for every since.
Like the AB performances themselves, at least up to Ellis Park, the NZR administration has been a shuffling, stumbling, conviction-less shambles. The right hand does not not appear to know what the left hand is doing, there is no boardroom game plan and no-one appears to be effectively in charge. So they have spared themselves further embarrassment with this 14-month workaround.
That’s the politics. What about the pragmatism? Well, that’s the good part. There appear still to be enough adults in this over-crowded kitchen to stop the next 14 months being a complete disaster. Foster remains the titular head of the galley, though much of his original coaching hands have been turfed out of the kitchen and replaced with smarter rugby brains - Ryan and Schmidt - who should be able to bring together the available ingredients to as to serve up a more palatable outcome.
You would hope that now a firm decision has been made - well, at least the appearance of one - this will end the self-generated soap opera and get people focused back on the task at hand. That starts with the Pumas in Christchurch next week and then onto the Wallabies and the retention of the Bledisloe Cup.
As for Razor Robertson, he may feel a sense of relief, not having to be drafted in at the worst possible moment to fix a mess created by somebody else. This gives him clear air to take over the top job next year, should be still be interested. And it gives the players, who were clearly and rightfully sick of the whole charade, a sense of certainty and direction.
If the outcome is Foster being more consultative, more open to new ideas and less dogged in his selections and game plans, the changes will be an improvement. They certainly couldn’t make things any worse. Could they?