Sport New Zealand rugby in full blown crisis amid claim, counterclaim and 'ridiculous, hurtful' comments
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If we thought things were bad in Welsh rugby at the moment, try being in New Zealand.
At least Wayne Pivac's side brought pride back into the Wales jersey following the shambolic home loss to Italy in the Six Nations, albeit the four Welsh regions need to perform infinitely better once the new season kicks in amid continued calls for more investment in the pro game.
Down under the domestic teams continue to do well in Super Rugby. However, after four defeats in five matches, the All Blacks are in full blown crisis mode. There is claim, counter claim, demands for sackings and players hitting back at some of the criticism, which has even been labelled 'ruthless and hurtful'.
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Coach Ian Foster, captain Sam Cane and chief executive Mark Robinson are each heavily in the firing line.
The triple world champions aren't accustomed to this sort of thing. With greats like Dan Carter and Richie McCaw not around any more to steady the ship, and back-to-back Rugby Championship games looming against world champions South Africa, things could even get worse.
There is already an outcry. This is what is being said.
Hansen hits out
Former New Zealand coach Steve Hansen isn't normally one for courting controversy, he used to hate some of even the mildest of headlines whilst in charge of Wales.
But he wasn't holding back in addressing what is going on at present, laying into his former bosses at the New Zealand Rugby Union and how the players are being treated.
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"The relationship between the board and the executive with the players at the moment is probably the worst it's been," said the 2015 World Cup winning boss. He hit out over a review on Foster's ability to do the job as coach, but said cuttingly: "When was the last time the NZ Rugby Union did a review on itself?"
Hansen went on: "Their job as an organisation is to run it with strength and leadership but do it in a way that looks after the people that work for you, otherwise you’ll end up with a high turnover of staff which I think they’re having at the moment."
Defending Foster, he said: "Good coaches go through adversity in their career and we’re seeing that with Foster. He won’t be happy with how things have gone but I don't think the issue is just inside the team, the issue is bigger than that."
Moffett wades in too
David Moffett, who used to run the game in New Zealand, offered his assessment overnight - and in typically blunt Moffett fashion he went for the jugular.
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In his line of fire is chief executive Robinson, Moffett hitting out over the way the game is being run.
Robinson is at the Commonwealth Games, with current sevens champions New Zealand starting the defence of their title today. They are in a group with England, Samoa and Sri Lanka.
However, in calling for Robinson to resign, Moffett said he was "swanning around Birmingham", while New Zealand rugby burns.
Asked if he felt Robinson should resign, Moffett replied: “Yes, I think he should."
He said: "We don’t need a CEO to learn how to be a CEO at New Zealand Rugby. We need somebody who knows what they’re doing, and if they make mistakes, like we all do, they can just own it.
“Don’t hide, don’t blame the board if they make decisions, it’s him, he’s the chief executive, the buck stops with him."
Calls for Foster and Cane to go
The 2-1 summer home loss to Ireland led to a clamour for the head of either Foster or captain Cane - in some cases for the pair of them to go. New Zealand also lost to the Irish again during the autumn internationals, while France put 40 points on them in Paris.
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Some pundits have been labelling the current side the worst in history. Foster's position is untenable, it is reckoned, while it was widely expected Cane would be replaced by either Brodie Retallick or Ardie Savea as captain.
However, changes have been made lower down instead. Two members of Foster's backroom team, Brad Mooar and John Plumtree were sacked, while there has been plenty of talk about Joe Schmidt taking on greater responsibility.
New Zealand were flying to South Africa today to prepare for their Rugby Championship opener with the Springboks next weekend with Foster and Cane still in situ, unexpectedly or not.
Foster is standing firm, insisting: "I am strong. I am resilient. I am really excited - to show you what this team is made of.
"There’s no doubt I’m under pressure, but I’m always under pressure. The key thing for me is ensuring we’ve got robust processes to make sure we have the right people in the right seats.”
Of the captaincy, Foster said: "I have belief in Sam Cane. We know we have a high accountability when you wear an All Blacks jersey and we need to do that better.
“I love the passion of our fans and I love the opinion. What I can assure people is that I’m not here other than to do the best job I can.”
The stars hit back
A leaked email reveals NZRU staff have been ordered not to comment on what Hansen has said. “While many of the things Sir Steve has said are unfair and hurtful to many, we do not think entering into a media debate with him is the right thing to do," read the memo.
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However, the players have responded to the glut of criticism heading the team's way and hit back at some of it.
Star scrum-half Aaron Smith said: "It’s up to us in the next two weeks to put a bit of pride back in the jersey for ourselves but also for the people who have been under the squeeze the most.
“I’ve got a lot of love for Fozzie [Foster] - you always feel for the men in the room. You know they care, and to see a lot of the bad stuff around him and Sam Cane, it’s hurtful and it’s actually gone… it’s ridiculous how ruthless it’s actually been. I feel for them as men."
Asked if he felt the criticism had gone too far, Smith replied: “I think we can all admit that."
Saying the players would use the criticism as a spur against South Africa, Smith continued: "I think there's obviously natural edge the last two weeks from what our team’s been through and what some of our people have been through."
Barrett has his say too
Smith's half-back partner Beauden Barrett admits he has been "hiding under a rock for a good week or so" mid the welter of criticism, but has broken his own silence.
The brilliant No.10 said of Foster: "He's a strong man but also not afraid to speak out and to share with us how much it hurt last week, what he went through and so on.
"It hurt us a lot as well seeing our coach, our leader and us, as players, what we went through. With Brad (Mooar) and Plum (Plumtree) having to move on as well, it hurts.
"We need to come together strongly, tightly and embrace this trip that we're about to get into."
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