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Foster vows to restore All Blacks’ aura after taking top job

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Ian Foster has been appointed as New Zealand rugby coach © AFP / CHARLY TRIBALLEAU

WELLINGTON, New Zealand, Dec 11Ian Foster pledged to restore the All Blacks’ aura of invincibility on Wednesday as the former assistant coach was promoted to the top job, tasked with rebuilding the three-time world champions after a disappointing World Cup.

New Zealand Rugby opted for continuity in naming Foster, who was the preferred candidate of illustrious departing coach Steve Hansen, under whom he worked for eight years.

He beat main rival Scott Robertson to the job, despite the Crusaders mentor winning three straight Super Rugby titles, with NZR saying the 54-year-old offered “fresh energy”.

“He brings world-class international experience to the role, an incredibly strong coaching team, and we think he’ll do an outstanding job,” chairman Brent Impey said in a statement.

Foster, who has signed a two-year contract — which stops short of the 2023 World Cup in France — said he was humbled to take over one of the most coveted roles in rugby.

He said he was pleased to step into the shoes of the “big fella” Hansen and wanted to build on his legacy of a success rate approaching 90 percent.

“Obviously we need to grow, we need to tweak, we didn’t get what we wanted in the last World Cup, losing that semi-final,” he said, referring to the 19-7 defeat by Eddie Jones’ England in Japan.

“I’m extremely passionate about adding a new touch, to really grow and get some mana back on the field, which we felt we’ve lost a little bit,” Foster added, using the Maori word for aura.

Despite working under Hansen during a period of outstanding All Blacks success, including winning the 2015 World Cup, Foster is a controversial choice for some Kiwi rugby fans.

Critics point to an uninspiring eight-year spell in charge of the Waikato Chiefs, when their best result was a losing appearance in the 2009 final.

NZR are gambling that he can maintain the success achieved under Hansen and repeat the smooth transition his predecessor made from assistant to head coach.

However, the fact that his contract does not run until the next World Cup may be a sign that NZR chiefs are hedging their bets.

– ‘Utterly predictable’ –

Foster is widely seen as a conservative option, unlike the break-dancing, left-field Robertson.

His appointment comes as no surprise and follows a selection process that some pundits have described as deeply flawed, believing Foster was always going to get the job.

Hansen announced in December 2018 that he would leave after the this year’s World Cup in Japan, yet the search for a replacement did not officially begin until the tournament ended 11 months later.

In the meantime, many leading Kiwi candidates had committed themselves elsewhere rather than gamble on breaking into a coaching set-up renowned for promoting from within.

Jamie Joseph opted to stay with Japan, Dave Rennie took over the Wallabies and Warren Gatland signed on with Waikato Chiefs, while Joe Schmidt announced he was taking a career break.

It set up a two-way contest between Foster and Robertson, despite NZR’s insistence it had invited 26 candidates to apply.

Rennie was frank about the fact that NZR had left its request for his CV too late to prevent him from signing for arch-rivals Australia.

Another complication was the fact that red-hot favourites New Zealand not only failed to win the World Cup, they were humbled in the stunning semi-final loss to England.

The manner of the defeat raised uncomfortable questions about whether the All Blacks’ coaching team had become stale and needed to be revitalised.

New Zealand Herald columnist Dylan Cleaver described reaction to Foster’s appointment as “collective ennui”.

“It’s totally underwhelming, utterly predictable news,” he wrote.

Crusaders chief executive Colin Mansbridge said he was disappointed for Robertson but glad he was staying with the Christchurch-based team.

“While this announcement means he will remain in the head coach position with the Crusaders, it is bittersweet for us in that we would have loved to see him get the All Blacks role,” he said in a statement.

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Europe beckons for South African rugby after Kiwi snub

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JOHANNESBURG, South Africa, Jul 20World Cup-winning Springbok Schalk Brits believes the future of South African rugby lies in Europe after New Zealand said there was no room for sides from the republic in Super Rugby.

“All of this jet lag and flying across different time zones just does not work,” said the hooker who retired after the triumphant 2019 World Cup campaign.

“We have got so many South Africans playing in Europe and it would be awesome to see them in action here for European clubs.”

With New Zealand favouring a trans-Tasman Super Rugby competition, South Africa Rugby chief executive Jurie Roux will address the media Tuesday about the way forward.

There has been no rugby in South Africa since mid-March due to the coronavirus pandemic, which claimed 5,033 lives by late Sunday, the most in an African country.

Here, AFP Sport looks at the possibilities for the world champions Springboks and Super Rugby teams the Bulls, Lions, Sharks and Stormers.

Rugby Championship

There has been speculation that the six-round annual tournament will be cut to four matches with New Zealand and Australia playing in South Africa only every second year.

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That would be a huge blow for SA Rugby coffers as the century-old rivalry with the All Blacks makes them a huge drawcard.

South Africa might consider abandoning the Championship and pursuing a suggestion by former All Blacks Justin Marshall and Jeff Wilson for three-Test tours between the great rivals.

“British and Irish Lions tours are so successful because we look forward to them,” noted another ex-All Black, John Kirwan. The same could be said of an All Blacks-Springboks series.

‘Seven Nations’

Should South African franchises move north, would the Springboks follow suit and apply to join England, France, Ireland, Italy, Scotland and Wales in a ‘Seven Nations’ championship?

Having the world champions on board would surely excite the organisers and costs would be greatly reduced if the Springboks played their three away matches on consecutive weekends.

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England, Ireland, France and Wales, in particular, would bring freshness for rugby followers, who have not rushed to the turnstiles for Championship visits by Australia and Argentina.

Ask the SA Rugby treasurer for his ‘dream’ line-up and he would surely say a multi-Test tour by the All Blacks and participation in the ‘Seven Nations’.

Super Rugby

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Although not official yet, the reality is that New Zealand want to play some Australian sides and the Pacific Islands in a new competition while excluding South Africa and Argentina.

The original version, a Super 10 between 1993 and 1995, was a superb competition, but constant tinkering and expansion has led to waning interest in a difficult-to-follow event.

Even those supporting the Golden Lions of South Africa could not have derived too much satisfaction from a 94-7 thrashing of Japanese visitors the Sunwolves three years ago.

South Africa sides often battled with time differences in Australasia — New Zealand is 11 hours ahead of the republic — and were weary after four-match tours.

‘Pro16’

Pro14 chief executive Martin Anayi says he would welcome Super Rugby ‘rejects’ the Bulls, Lions, Sharks and Stormers into an expanded edition.

“The tournament works well but could be even better if we added some South African teams,” he said, referring to a competition that also includes Irish, Italian, Scottish and Welsh teams.

But there may be no room for the two current South African Pro14 participants, the Cheetahs and Kings, who have experienced very different fortunes.

While the Cheetahs have been competitive, the Kings won just four of 55 matches in three seasons with some of the losing margins embarrassing.

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Currie Cup

The domestic competition has survived constant format changes to remain the vital ‘nursery’ from which Springboks emerge.

First staged in 1892, it was the bedrock of South African rugby until the dawn of professionalism after the 1995 Rugby World Cup.

As Test and Super Rugby fixtures took up an increasing amount of the season, the Currie Cup often battled for calendar space.

But it survived and this year could feature the four Super Rugby sides plus the Cheetahs, Kings, Griquas and Pumas, if play is possible amid the coronavirus.

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Kenya records highest number of deaths from Covid-19

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Kenya records highest number of deaths from Covid-19

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Kenya’s coronavirus cases rise to 13,771 after 418 more infections

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By NATION REPORTER

Kenya on Monday reported 418 more Covid-19 infections, raising the country’s tally to 13,771 since the virus was first confirmed on March 13.

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Health Chief Administrative Secretary (CAS) Rashid Aman also reported four more deaths, raising the toll to 238. He rectified an earlier report about 19 deaths in a single day, which would have been the highest number ever recorded in Kenya.

The 418 new patients were found following the testing of 2,474 samples in the last 24 hours.

Four hundred and eight of them were Kenyans and 10 foreigners while male patients numbered 263 and female patients 155.

Dr Aman also announced that 494 patients had been discharged, raising the country’s total number of recoveries to 5,616.

Of the recovered patients, 465 were under home care and the rest in hospitals.

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