All Blacks coach Ian Foster has given himself and his side a "satisfying" passing grade for this year’s roller coaster season although he admits they need to work on consistency and focus in 2021.
Foster reflected on his first season in charge of the All Blacks since taking over from Steve Hansen on Sky Sport’s The Breakdown from his managed isolation facility in Auckland after winning the Tri-Nations and Bledisloe Cup this year.
Despite the triumphs though, the team finished with just a 50 per cent win rate on a record of three victories, two losses and a draw.
That included a shock loss to Argentina in Sydney – the All Blacks’ first ever defeat to the Pumas in 30 Tests – which they rectified in their final Test of the year with a dominant 38-0 win over the South Americans.
Against the Wallabies, the All Blacks started the year with a scrappy 16-16 draw before picking up their first win under Foster in a 27-7 victory at Eden Park.
The win in Auckland was followed up by a record 43-5 win over the Australians in Sydney but it was quickly forgotten a week later with their sloppy 24-22 loss in Brisbane.
On reflection though, Foster was still pleased with his team’s results.
“I’d have to say I’m pretty satisfied with the campaign,” Foster said. “I thought we showed how good we can be. We won two trophies.
“But there’s also the lows, and particularly the Argentina game, that were really, really frustrating. So it showed that consistency is missing with this group at the moment and it’s something we’re striving for and really going to work hard to get.
“2020 gave us some fantastic experience and fantastic [lessons] and I’m sure that Brisbane game and Argentina game will hold us in good stead going forward.”
Looking forward, Foster said this year had served as a firm foundation to build off in what he hopes will be a more normal campaign after being made to work around travel restrictions caused by the Covid-19 global pandemic.
“We need to get a little more physical and use our set piece as a weapon,” he said. “Ironically our lineout went from number 10 in the world last year to number one this year, so we saw real positive signs in that area – particularly our driving play off it and the consistency of ball.
“So we made some key gains in some key focus areas.”
However, he also noted one area the All Blacks clearly struggled with this year.
“The area we’ve got to work hardest on is when teams distract us. In both Brisbane and Parramatta we struggled with some refereeing, particularly at scrum and breakdown, and didn’t make great adjustments there.
“We also enabled teams to niggle us off the ball and that resulted in some patterns and behaviours in our attack game where we got blinkered and really went to the wrong places.
“We spent a lot of time after that Argentina game working hard on what we thought were the cues for us getting into that state and learning what the opposition and other things do to get us out of kilter.”
In saying this, Foster said that’s why the team’s final Test was that much more rewarding as he feels it was the side taking that first step forward already.
“That’s why I’m immensely proud of that last game. Whilst we deserved criticism for the loss to Argentina, I thought that 38-0 was an absolute methodical game where we applied a lot of the things we had learned from the previous two and really stayed clearer and more focused on what we wanted to do.
“I think that’s probably our major challenge in ’21.”
All Blacks 2020 season
Sunday 11 October v Australia, Wellington: 16-16 draw
Sunday 18 October v Australia, Auckland: 27-7 win
Saturday 31 October v Australia, Sydney: 43-5 win
Saturday 7 November v Australia, Brisbane: 24-22 loss
Saturday 14 November v Argentina, Sydney: 25-15 loss
Saturday 28 November v Argentina, Newcastle: 38-0 win