- Publish Date
- Wednesday, 17 August 2022, 8:55AM
Former international coach Matt Williams has spoken out against the New Zealand public's "vile" reaction towards Ian Foster and the All Blacks following their recent run of poor performances.
Williams, who has coached Scotland and several clubs internationally including the Waratahs and Leinster, also called out New Zealand Rugby and chief executive Mark Robinson for a "real lack of leadership" in how they've dealt with the Foster saga.
Speaking on Irish sports show Off The Ball, Williams praised the way the All Blacks responded last Sunday to beat the Springboks 35-23 at Ellis Park, and questioned if the New Zealand public would give the team the credit they deserve.
"Winning at Ellis Park is one of the hardest assignments in World Rugby," Williams said. "It's at altitude. You can see that with the kicking and how far the ball travels. There's just less oxygen, that's just a fact. What it does, it makes it very hard on teams that aren't used to it. The South Africans are used to it and obviously teams from New Zealand and Australia and Ireland, where you're at sea level, it makes it unbelievably hard.
"And the other part about New Zealand, they played magnificent rugby. Their first try, Sam Cane's try, the build up to it is as good as anything you would ever see. Will they get credit in New Zealand?"
Williams said the "horrific" reaction from some in the New Zealand media and general public towards Foster and the All Blacks needed to be called out.
"Look, the New Zealand media and the general rugby public have been vile. And I choose to use that word. They've been unfair and they've attacked the players and the staff personally – even attacked the way they look, their physical appearance. It's just been horrific.
"It's nothing any sports person should have to endure because they haven't done anything wrong, they've just lost games. They haven't acted in a manner that's brought disrespect to the jersey. They've gone out and tried their hardest and it hasn't been good enough. They've lost five from six, but the way they've been pillared and humiliated in the New Zealand media and social media is something that all of us in rugby need to call out and say that's just not acceptable."
The Aussie former coach, who has also worked as a television pundit, said he sympathised with Foster, who he believes should be given more time in the job.
"There is a lot of pressure on the New Zealand Rugby Union to sack Ian Foster. Whether they will, traditionally I would've said no they won't, but there is a huge amount of pressure. I do very much feel for Ian Foster; I do sympathise for him. What he's enduring is not what any coach should have to endure.
"That was a really, really good game of rugby after that first try, which was an absolutely cracker of a try and Sam Cane their captain scored it – and that was really symbolic as well because he's been getting horrible abuse online and from the media."
Williams then turned his attention to NZ Rugby and provided a scathing assessment on the organisation and the chief executive's lack of leadership.
"New Zealand Rugby is saying ... once you put on a black jersey, you're not allowed to lose any games, you're not allowed to have a bad run. And if you do, we'll sack you. I know sport is all about performance and so on, but there is an unreasonable position being taken by the media and the New Zealand rugby public. And the CEO and the NZRFU have really lacked leadership at the moment in supporting their team and their coach.
"Steve Hansen came out and criticised them massively the other week, saying exactly that – that they are not supporting the team and are not supporting their coach. And the CEO just did it again the other day (at a press conference following the All Blacks' win). I think that's really shameful what they're doing, especially after such a gutsy, brilliant performance.
"I've been against the Kiwis my whole life but you've got to be fair in this and just look and say that really took some courage and really took some cajones. You stuck together and played some great rugby and you beat the world champions at their home in one of the most difficult venues in the world by playing some really positive rugby. If you're going to criticise them, you've got to give them credit as well. I don't know where they stand in the New Zealand Rugby Union.
"Let me put it this way from the outside: the way national team of New Zealand have conducted themselves, and their coach Ian Foster, has done nothing but acted with pride and dignity. The way the New Zealand rugby public and the New Zealand media and the New Zealand Rugby Football Union have acted, I can't say the same. The New Zealand Rugby Union have not backed their team the way they should, especially after such a great win."
Williams reiterated the "real lack of leadership" at NZ Rugby and suggested the problem with rugby in Aotearoa was not necessarily the team.
"Your CEO and your board are the leaders of your organisation, and they have to show leadership. Right now they're not. They're being caught in the firestorm that is the rugby media in New Zealand, instead of standing up to them like the leadership did in 2007. They wanted to sack Richie McCaw in 2007, they wanted to sack Graham Henry and Steve Hansen. Both of those coaches who were with the team at that time then went on to win World Cups.
"That leadership that the NZRU showed then, they're certainly not showing now. And here's the thing, their team is. So there is a vacuum of leadership and their team is stepping up and their coach has stepped up."
Williams said the All Blacks' performances under Ian Foster, especially defeats during last year, needed to be put in context.
"Yeah they did poorly in the past, they've acknowledged that, they haven't dodged that, they haven't tried to make excuses – and I think there were some certainly in November last year. There were some reasonable excuses for why they weren't performing, which is they've been living in hotels in a Covid bubble for almost four months in Australia and then in Europe, and anyone who has ever toured for that period of time, you are absolutely mentally fried.
"They didn't have any excuses at home except they were beaten by a better team ... Why not just admit that: Ireland played well, we're not happy, let's move forward. And look how they performed last week.
"There's a huge problem with New Zealand rugby, not necessarily with their team, but certainly with other aspects of their leadership."
This article was first published on nzherald.co.nz and is republished here with permission
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