The Emperor Has No Clothes


Watching the All Blacks bumbling, chopping and changing performances of late it’s hard not to conclude that no-one really is behind the wheel.

Of course, everyone is nodding sagely and saying all the right things - ‘we’re building, it’s going to take some time to gel, we don’t want to show our hand’ - but in the back of all their minds they’re really thinking ‘I really have absolutely no idea what the strategy is here.’ And that’s showing up with the way the team is playing.

Yes, there is a lot of frantic, headless chook stuff, playing at a million miles an hour, but without any evidence that anyone knows what the master plan is. You get the sense that they’re all over-programmed and excessively workshopped. The only time they gel is when they ditch whatever Whiteboard Wankery Foster has programmed into them before the game and switch to their own instincts as professional rugby players.

That’s why I think all the ruminating about selections here is just so much like shifting the deck chairs on the Titanic when it’s already hit the iceberg.

Of course, the loss of Retallick through injury, the inability to find a settled blind side, the signs of age and wear in the established props, the chopping and changing at midfield, the loss of form for Ben Smith and the absence of a Mr Dependable right-wing are all elements in the ABs’ plight.

But I think a lot of this stuff is more symptomatic of the Big Picture, which is one of mediocre coaching, lousy communication and poor game management. Anyone who has worked in the senior management of an organisation can see what is going on here. This is a failure of succession planning. My sense is Hansen has had one foot out the door for most of this World Cup cycle and has been content to leave a lot of the decision-making to Foster.

OK, so you might say ‘that WAS the succession plan’. But I also think they didn’t really factor Wayne Smith’s retirement into it. He was the brains trust. And I think the NZRU just had so much faith in Hansen that they didn’t see the hospital pass coming. My guess is that Foster has not won the confidence of the players and you can see that on the field. They are approaching matches with a disastrous combination of superficial bravado to mask an underlying complete lack of confidence in the game plan.

It’s an emperor’s new clothes scenario. Foster is not up to it. He’s been found out. But no-one at this stage of the cycle is willing to scream “He’s butt-naked!”

This is a natural thing with long-dominant organisations. They atrophy and what made them successful starts to work in reverse. Those at the top want to protect their legacy, but you often find that during their victory lap they are less willing to tolerate second-guessing. Foster was a safe choice for Hansen because he was part of the existing set-up. But if all you are doing is watering down what you had before, it becomes an inferior product.

Again, I don’t really think this is primarily about individual players, although there are elements of that. This is like Apple post-Steve Jobs. Everyone else catches up and there’s a tendency to sit on one’s laurels and stop innovating.

Bottom line is they’re done.

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