WELLINGTON (REUTERS, AFP) - All Blacks forward Ardie Savea insisted Ian Foster has the full backing of his players after their 35-23 win over South Africa in Johannesburg on Saturday (Aug 13) eased some of the pressure on the embattled head coach.
But New Zealand Rugby (NZR) on Sunday refused to endorse Foster's position despite their triumph.
NZR chief executive Mark Robinson said the coach's future will be determined following consultation with team management once they arrive back in New Zealand, with an announcement on the head coaching role to be made by the NZR board in the middle or end of next week.
"We'll take stock of the situation and the information coming out of the camp, and make a decision," he told journalists.
"The most we can really say is we are focused on getting everyone home, and we'll have a number of conversations in the coming days.
"We just need to work through this little period to understand where the next steps are with this management team."
Foster's position at the helm of the three-time world champions has been called into question following a run of five losses in the previous six games, but Savea stressed the entire squad continue to support the former fly-half.
"For me personally, that is my coach and I back him 100 per cent, side-by-side," said the 28-year-old.
"He's been under a lot of pressure and I know Foz doesn't want to make it about himself, but I just want him to know that we have got his back and all the players have got his back.
"He's a great coach and he's got great coaches beside him, who back him fully, 100 per cent. And I hope everyone that listens, that reads this, backs us."
Despite the impressive nature of the victory at Ellis Park, the All Blacks sit at the bottom of the table with four points from their first two games in this year's Rugby Championship, having been drubbed 26-10 in Mbombela the previous Saturday.
New Zealand have only failed to win the four-nation tournament on two of the nine times it has been played since it was launched in 2012.
"With our sport there's always doubters and a bit of negativity but that's okay, because it makes everyone better,"said Savea.
"And people care. Our fans care. The media care. Which is fair.
"But we have got to stand up and do our job and I'm just happy we did that tonight.
"When people go through adversity, when they are stuck in the trenches, there are some things that come out and you don't know what helps us to come out of that and that makes us special.
"So today that was it, but it's only a start. We've won one out of two games (in the Rugby Championship). We've got to keep going."
The much-improved All Blacks turned the tables late after South Africa led by one point with six minutes remaining before conceding two converted tries.
"To say I am proud is a massive understatement," said New Zealand skipper and flanker Sam Cane, who has also been criticised amid reports he would lose the captaincy to lock Sam Whitelock.
"Adversity really challenges your character and this group has got plenty of character. There has never been a question of how much we care or how much we want it."
South Africa flanker and skipper Siya Kolisi said: "We could not pull through today. In the first half the game was quite fast and we could not impose our game plan.
"They played really well. We always knew they only needed a couple of moments to make it count."
Foster, for his part, called criticism of his team selections "insulting" after the All Blacks ended their dismal run on Saturday.
South Africa had recorded their biggest win over the All Blacks in 94 years in the previous meeting, but a strong performance in Johannesburg saw Foster's side turn the tables, prompting the coach to fire a broadside towards his detractors.
Stress "comes with the job. It has been pretty vicious", Foster said. "There has been a lot of onslaught particularly from our New Zealand media. They've got high expectations of us and they've made that loud and clear. They've clearly come very, very strong at me as a person.
"Some of them have even called our selections popgun, which I found quite insulting for players that give everything to play for their nation.
"That pressure has been strong but it doesn't change the fact that through adversity that's the best teacher for character and we've stayed tight."
The earlier loss to the South Africans had been preceded by back-to-back defeats by Ireland as the All Blacks lost a home series for the first since the start of the professional era.
That sequence of results, coupled with losses to Ireland and France on tour last November, had increased the pressure on Foster as the countdown towards next year's World Cup continues.
"It's hard to win all the time and if everyone knew the formula of how to do that we'd all be doing it all the time,"said Foster. "And when you look at long-term success it often starts with a bit of adversity, it starts at a low point.
"We've lost three in a row this year and it hurt but I felt last week was our best performance of the year.
"We saw signs of our combativeness - we missed a beat at the breakdown but we've grown through that. We're breeding a few young boys and a few new combinations and that takes time.
"Some people don't have patience and I understand that; I get the frustrations, but inside the camp that doesn't mean a lot to us.
"What's important is how we pull together and work hard, and keep growing."
Pumas thump Wallabies to top table
In the later game, Argentina gained revenge on a depleted Australia for the previous week's defeat with a seven-try bonus-point 48-17 victory.
Tries from Juan Imhoff, Jeronimo de la Fuente, Juan Martin Gonzalez, Emiliano Boffelli, Tomas Albornoz and two from Thomas Gallo helped Australian Michael Cheika's Pumas to a convincing victory and even took them to the top of the table after their first win in the competition since 2020.
To add to the party atmosphere, Agustin Creevy came off the bench to equal Nicolas Sanchez's record of 94 Pumas caps. Argentina had wilted in the final quarter in Mendoza a week earlier to lose 41-26 but this time they did not just hold on in San Jaun but romped away in the closing minutes.
For Australia coach Dave Rennie, there were no excuses and he did not mince his words when he described the thrashing as simply "not good enough".
"Massive disappointment. Not good enough," he told reporters.
"You could see there were four tries that were kicks in behind us. We certainly got dominated in the collision area.
"We created plenty of opportunities but we have to be patient. Rucks not a disaster, we just weren't clinical enough."