Tri Nations rugby: Former All Blacks coach Wayne Smith on what’s really happening inside dressing room after historic defeat to Argentina

Former assistant coach Wayne Smith has issued an impassioned defence of the under-fire All Blacks and called for patience with Ian Foster’s struggling team.

With the All Blacks winning only two of their first five tests this year, Foster’s tenure is already under intense pressure.

All Blacks captain Sam Cane has, likewise, come under fire after an interview that screened on Sky Sport’s Breakdown show on Tuesday night in which he said of criticism levelled at the team: “We’ve got some amazing fans but we’ve also got some pretty brutal ones.

“With that you’ve just got to remind yourself ‘hey, they may like to think they know a lot about the game of rugby, in reality they don’t really. They may know the game from what they see in the 80 minutes, but they don’t see the stuff that goes on behind the scenes.”

Following the All Blacks’ first defeat to the Pumas last weekend, and their first successive losses in nine years, their record victory over the Wallabies in Sydney where they locked away the Bledisloe Cup for an 18th year has rapidly faded.

In a message to the Herald, Smith reflected on his own tumultuous experience as All Blacks head coach from 2000-01 to back Foster and Cane to respond.

“As Sam Cane said the other day, captaining and coaching the All Blacks can be brutal if results don’t go your way, or you are perceived to be ‘not up to it’,” Smith said.

“There is always a frenzy of social media and journalistic activity. That’s life. I’ve been through it. It takes huge self-belief and resilience to withstand it and carry on.

“What critics need to remember is that you are talking about good people. Everyone on this earth has a talent. Sam’s and Ian Foster’s talents aren’t any more special than others who you pass on the street, but they are certainly more recognisable and measurable.”

Smith outlined that rugby is based on complex laws and multi-level decision making and that to play with the synergy New Zealand desires and expects you need everyone involved in the organisation recognising the same cues and reacting in the same way, on and off the field.

“There are so many ways you can play, so many variables and ever-changing law interpretations. Given that, there is invariably a need for debate. Sometimes, conflict occurs. The All Blacks have an overriding philosophy of ‘disagree and commit’ when decisions are made. The captain and coach aren’t working alone in this.

“To bring all this together is difficult. It takes time. It takes courage to confront norms, make changes, stick your neck out. It often doesn’t work, and you get poor results. Then, as [All Blacks mental skills coach] Gilbert Enoka often says, you adapt, adjust and overcome.”

Smith said the All Blacks legacy is fundamentally built on expectations and that, generally, you “get what you expect in this world”. Since 1905, New Zealand’s expectations of the All Blacks are they don’t lose.

“In the words of the great Jock Hobbs, ‘every day, we get up to be the best in the world’.”

Smith said that when the All Blacks lose the dollar drops in value, governments are overthrown, and All Blacks coaches and captains are vilified.

“These are difficult times for Ian and Sam. One of the greatest eras in All Blacks history has ended on the back of McCaw, Carter, Woodcock, Muliaina, Mealamu, Nonu, Smith, Kaino et al retiring. Most of them centurions; all greats of our game,” he said.

“This is a cycle – it’s happened before and will happen again. There are future greats of our game in this current All Blacks team. Yes, there are mistakes being made, both on and off the field.

“A couple of losses amplifies those. That doesn’t mean these blokes are no good. I hear often that Ian Foster was unsuccessful as Chiefs coach- by the way, he led the Chiefs to a final and a semi – but this criticism doesn’t allow for continual learning, for getting better with age and experience.

“Tough times are always needed to create success. The All Blacks are going through these at the moment. I’m pretty sure that this team will come through these like those before them and new legends will be forged.”

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