WELLINGTON • Former assistant Ian Foster was yesterday named the All Blacks' new head coach, as the three-time Rugby World Cup winners opted for continuity despite a disappointing semi-final exit at the latest edition in Japan.
He was the preferred candidate of departing coach Steve Hansen, under whom he worked for eight years, and was always the favourite to take over and rebuild the side.
The 54-year-old Foster beat main rival Scott Robertson to the job, despite the Crusaders coach winning three straight Super Rugby titles.
New Zealand Rugby chairman Brent Impey hailed Hansen's successor as someone who would bring "fresh energy", saying: "He brings world-class international experience to the role, an incredibly strong coaching team, and we think he'll do an outstanding job."
Foster, who signed a two-year contract, said he was humbled to take over one of the most-coveted roles in rugby.
He added: "I feel truly privileged and honoured to be given this opportunity and I can't wait to lead the team into the next chapter of what is a remarkable legacy. 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."
But despite working under Hansen during a period of outstanding success for the All Blacks, including winning the 2015 World Cup, Foster will be a controversial choice for some Kiwi fans.
Critics have pointed to his uninspiring eight-year spell in charge of the Chiefs, when their best result was a losing appearance in the 2009 Super Rugby final, and he has been widely seen as a conservative option, unlike the breakdancing, left-field Robertson.
The local media called his appointment "underwhelming", with New Zealand Herald columnist Dylan Cleaver labelling it as "utterly predictable news".
The Crusaders were also disappointed that Robertson was overlooked for the role.
Said chief executive Colin Mansbridge: "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 has a superb coaching record with the Crusaders and, off the field, he is an engaging and inspiring leader who has a unique ability to connect with his players."
While New Zealand Rugby feels that the new coach can repeat the smooth transition Hansen made after seven years as assistant to Graham Henry in 2012, the fact that his contract does not run until the 2023 World Cup may be a sign that it is hedging its bets.