Scott Robertson’s appointment as All Blacks head coach from next year ahead of Jamie Joseph was greeted with widespread glee in New Zealand.
The longstanding public favourite will, finally, get his chance to lead the nation team — but not before an unprecedented transition period that includes the All Blacks World Cup campaign playing out.
But what are some of the knock-on effects of Robertson’s appointment?
The All Blacks this year:
There’s no ambiguity around the incumbent All Blacks coaching team and long-established management’s deeply-held frustrations at the decision to appoint Scott Robertson from 2024 six months out from the World Cup.
In the lead up to Robertson’s appointment, All Blacks head coach Ian Foster, the vastly experienced Joe Schmidt and mental skills coach Gilbert Enoka announced they would be moving on post-World Cup.
Forwards coach Jason Ryan is contracted through to 2025 but fellow All Blacks assistants Scott McLeod (defence), Greg Feek (scrum), long-serving manager Darren Shand and strength and conditioning guru Nic Gill, among other established management, face an uncertain, unsettling pre-World Cup period where their futures are out of their hands.
In his latest comments on the matter last week Foster reiterated the uncharted, awkward situation for his wider management team as a new broom cleanout looms.
Ian Foster [R] says he has cleared the air with his assistants, including Joe Schmidt [L] after the NZR’s decision to appoint a coach for 2024 ahead of this year’s World Cup Paul Harding/Getty Images
“We had a two-day management meeting about two-three weeks ago,” Foster said. “We were able to clear the air a little bit and talk about what’s happening and the uncertainty. Because it has created an interesting vibe in the group.”
While there’s widespread loyalty for Foster among the All Blacks leadership group, from a playing perspective I don’t see the timing of the appointment having a major impact.
Professional athletes tend to be single-minded, particularly when it comes to pinnacle events. With a host of veterans set to depart following the global tournament motivation was already high. Now, with several long serving management staff set to join them, it may only enhance that sentiment.
Coaching knock-on effects:
New Zealand Rugby wasn’t in a position to reveal Robertson’s future All Blacks coaching team after he signed the contract an hour before Tuesday’s press conference.
Twice previously passed over for the job, once after the 2019 World Cup then again last year when placed on stand-by with Foster’s job on the line, Robertson had former Crusaders right-hand man Ryan, Blues head coach Leon MacDonald and Hurricanes mentor Jason Holland on his All Blacks coaching ticket. He is also expected to promote highly-regarded Crusaders assistant Scott Hansen next year.
That scenario would leave three New Zealand Super Rugby teams searching for new head coaches next year.
Robertson wasn’t about to rock the boat on his unveiling day but, without naming names, he went as far as he could to confirm Ryan, MacDonald, Holland and Hansen as his preferred the coaching team.
Leon MacDonald [L] is likely to be among Scott Robertson’s All Blacks staff, meaning the Blues would need a new coach in 2024 Hannah Peters/Getty Images
“I’ve got my preferred group, yeah. I’m pretty loyal,” Robertson said. “There’s options. Without going into it and nothing is official but they’re all good men.”
New Zealand Rugby boss Mark Robinson indicated it might not be that straightforward, though.
“In regards to a team, we were mainly focused on selecting a head coach,” Robinson said. “Certainly we gained some insights in terms of the groups of people candidates might work with but at the same time they understand that’s a process we want to have some sort of input and say in.”
Historically, the Crusaders have largely promoted from within or appointed coaches with a strong affinity to their region. As they seek a seventh successive title this year, there is clearly no need to tear up the script and start again.
Highly-regarded Crusaders assistant Scott Hansen, who assisted Leon MacDonald with the All Blacks XV on their two-match northern tour last year, would be favoured to assume charge of the defending champions next year. Only, Robertson is expected to take Hansen with him to the All Blacks.
Former Crusaders coaches Rob Penney, Todd Blackadder, Robbie Deans and Vern Cotter, the latter resigning from leading Fiji at the start of this year for personal reasons, are considered strong possibilities to take over if Robertson and Hansen depart.
Former All Blacks midfielder Tamati Ellison is a Super Rugby head coach in the waiting but after being anointed to lead the Wellington NPC side next year, while continuing his assistant role at the Crusaders, it may be too soon for him just yet.
Scott Robertson has achieved a dream in being named All Blacks coach, but his reign won’t commence until next year ARTY MELVILLE/AFP via Getty Images
How will Robertson handle the All Blacks rebuild next year? Robertson promises to bring a fresh, visionary, uninhibited presence that will drastically alter the All Blacks next year. After a series of assistant promotions — from Steve Hansen to Foster — Robertson’s appointment represents the biggest sea change for the All Blacks in 20 years.
Robertson’s intrinsically optimistic, exuberant personality is infectious and integral to charting an 83.2% winning rate that includes 10 domestic titles.
Stepping up to the Test scene won’t be easy, though. For starters the opposition is incomparable to Super Rugby. Expectations and scrutiny will, at some point in his rein, reach fever pitch. Dealing with that pressure can be all consuming.
Robertson’s first assignment in July, 2024, is a three-Test home series against England. With Sam Whitelock, Brodie Retallick, Richie Mo’unga, Beauden Barrett, Aaron Smith, Dane Coles among others leaving next year, Robertson faces a seriously challenging rebuild and he will immediately confront difficult decisions such as naming his All Blacks captain – expected to be Scott Barrett.
His response to that exodus is telling, though.
“You’ve got what you’ve got, so you’ve got to make sure you perform from the start. I know the lay of the land intimately. I understand who is on and off contract. We’ll talk a lot about it. That excites me.”
Lessons learned for New Zealand Rugby:
It’s fair to say NZ Rugby must do everything within their power to ensure Robertson enjoys a much smoother tenure than Foster ever did.
Perhaps that’s partly why NZ Rugby agreed to Robertson’s unprecedented four-year contract when previous All Blacks head coaches have signed two-year extensions that required reappointment mid-World Cup cycle.
While NZ Rugby moved swiftly to fast-track Robertson’s appointment this week – by confirming his succession a matter of hours after he presented to the board – strong, decisive leadership has been largely absent at other critical junctures.
Richie Mo’unga [L], has been the fulcrum of Robertson’s success with the Crusaders, but the fly-half will not be available when the coach moves onto the All Blacks Hannah Peters/Getty Images
Last year lurched from one disaster to the next as two assistant coaches, John Plumtree and Brad Mooar, were fired during the messy fallout from the home series defeat to Ireland. Foster was then belatedly backed through to the World Cup — thanks to the upset triumph at Ellis Park and pressure from senior players — amid a backdrop of discontent.
Seven months on, Foster has effectively been given a six-month notice period.
An awkward transition phase now awaits the All Blacks incumbent coaching and management team.
NZ Rugby has never been here before. How they manage the delicate Foster-Robertson handover will be telling.
“There’s now six months until the World Cup,” Robinson said. “We believe the players and management are highly professional. We’ll put this behind us today and move on and support the team all we can. The team is all in that space. We just want the absolute best for them.”