Rugby World Cup: All Blacks coach Ian Foster ramps up quarterfinal pressure on Ireland
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“This is their moment. If they’re ever going to win a World Cup, it’s now.” And, just like that, All Blacks coach Ian Foster played the first psychological card of an intriguing quarterfinal week against Ireland at the Rugby World Cup in France.  

Foster wasn’t waving any white flags ahead of his team’s matchup against the world’s No 1 side, and title favourites, at Stade de France in Paris on Saturday night (kickoff 8am Sunday NZT). Far from it. What he was doing was ramping up the pressure on an Ireland side he is well aware has never advanced beyond the quarterfinals of this tournament.

In many ways, Ireland want what New Zealand have in international rugby. That is to say a pedigree of success, a mountain of respect, a record of achievement, and three World Cup crowns to show for it. One would be a nice start.

They’ve had their moments over the years, but not at the global tournament where they’ve consistently flattered only to deceive. But right now Andy Farrell’s men are in the midst of an historic run of excellence, their breakthrough series victory over the All Blacks in New Zealand last year keying a burst of 17 consecutive test victories (with a Grand Slam thrown in) that lands them here in the quarterfinals of the World Cup once more. They are one short of matching the achievements of the 2015-16 All Blacks (of which Foster was an assistant coach) and 2015-17 England side in rattling off a tier-1 record of 18.

So close. Yet so far, if the embattled New Zealand coach, who much to his own chagrin has already been replaced post-RWC, has anything to do with it.

Foster would dearly love to engineer an against-the-odds victory (the bookies have rightfully installed Ireland as favourites) that would not only be payback for the toughest defeats of his reign in July of ‘22, but also help turn the narrative of his own term as head coach.

He’s sure his All Blacks are a lot better than the group Ireland humbled in New Zealand in 2022, but he admits Farrell has continued to evolve his team too.

“They haven't achieved what they have achieved by standing still,” said Foster. “We were the last team to beat them at Eden Park. Since then they've had a great record. They’ll be looking at that consecutive wins [mark] and they’ve earned that. So there’s no doubt they've evolved their game.

“They've got a group of players … this is probably their moment. If they’re ever going to win a World Cup, they’ll probably feel like it’s now, and as a team we’re kinda in the same mode. So it’s pretty exciting.”

Asked about the “payback” emotion that had already been expressed by Beauden Barrett and Dane Coles, Foster had no problem with it.

“It’s OK for some people to take some losses more personally than others. That’s what I love about Dane. When they came to New Zealand, they said it at the time, they felt they took something from us. It was a massive achievement for them to win on New Zealand soil. But there’s been a lot of water under the bridge since then, and I think in this World Cup it’s all about this game.”

One thing Foster and Farrell can probably agree on is that there are few secrets between these two sides, with Ireland winning four of their last six matchups.

“We know them pretty well; they know us pretty well,” agreed Foster. “Both teams will try to surprise around the edges, but the game is going to be about disciplined defence, about intensity at the breakdown, body height and winning corners. We know that against Ireland, and they will know that about us too.

“We’ve got a pretty clear idea about the strengths they will bring.”

Ireland’s efficiency and consistency are big rocks of their game. They understand their strengths, they minimise their weaknesses, and they are relentless in their dedication to the tenets of their game. It did for the Boks in a pool-play arm-wrestle. And was far too much for the Scots to handle.

“They’ve played together a long, long time, and they’ve got some long-established combinations. They know their game really clearly … but you’ve got to give them credit. Sometimes if you know your game you can get a bit bored. They’re clearly not.

“We’ve got massive respect for how they’ve grown the last few years. We’ve been at the receiving end and also been able to overcome that. We know them, they know us. It’s a great mental challenge.”

The All Blacks coach also slid one more thought worm Ireland’s way when asked how hard it had been to maintain that winning streak when it hit the 17-18 mark.

“It does get hard. It becomes something on your shoulders and you become a target. You can believe in the past and because it worked yesterday, it’s going to work tomorrow. They’re traps. I know we tried to overcome them; and they would have done the same.”

Does it get any better than this? Irresistible force meets immovable object. Something has to give at Stade de France in the opening World Cup quarterfinal. Will it be Farrell’s Ireland or Foster’s All Blacks?