All Blacks coach Ian Foster was a relieved man Sunday after New Zealand restored order by thumping Argentina, saying his team were still developing but always believed in themselves.
The embattled Foster, who took over from Steve Hansen after last year’s World Cup, had faced calls for his axing after just five games in charge following consecutive Tri Nations defeats to Australia and then the Pumas two weeks ago.
But after crushing Argentina 38-0 in a Saturday evening rematch at Newcastle, north of Sydney, he will almost certainly end his first year in charge with two pieces of silverware. The All Blacks had already secured the trans-Tasman Bledisloe Cup and they will also win the Tri Nations, barring a freak result in next week’s final match between Australia and Argentina.
Asked if he was satisfied with the conclusion to 2020, he replied: “Yeah, I am. It’s been an immensely difficult year for everyone, so this is not about the All Blacks, it’s everyone.
“A fortnight ago you’d seen us play our fifth Test in six weeks and it was tough.
“For us there will still be a few niggly, hurt moments about the loss to Argentina, but at least we had a chance to fix it and show that we can play, that this group is developing.
“We’ve got a bit more to go, we’re clear about that. But it’s a big way to finish.”
New Zealand’s media were equally relieved, with the New Zealand Herald declaring: “Black on track” while stuff.com.nz added: “Job done. Crisis averted”.
It was a far more disciplined All Blacks team on Saturday.
Their decision-making was better and they mixed up their game well, embracing a variety of passing, running and kicking to dominate territory and possession, keeping the Pumas guessing.
The bonus point win all-but secured the Tri Nations, although it remains mathematically possible that Argentina or Australia can pinch the title when they meet in the tournament’s final game next weekend, but only by one of them scoring a highly improbable 90-plus points.
“What I was most proud of was that we hammered away at them, we played a lot of rugby against them and had a lot of variety with our kicking game,” said Foster.
“Perhaps we could have taken a few more opportunities in the first half, but we didn’t lose our way or get frustrated. We were quite clinical in going back to areas where we felt we were getting them.
“We just didn’t lose belief in what we were doing,” he added.
Defeat was a cruel blow for Mario Ledesma’s men, who were hoping to lift the spirits of their nation after the death of football legend Diego Maradona, aged 60, last week.
After beating New Zealand 25-15 then battling to a 15-15 draw with Australia they must now lift themselves for their final game against the Wallabies next weekend.
“We weren’t clinical enough with our ball, in our lineout or the scrum so we couldn’t have a solid platform from which to play from,” lamented Ledesma.
He denied tiredness was a factor after three Tests in as many weeks and said they were determined to end their year on a high.
“We’ve made a lot of sacrifices (to be in Australia) to not finish the way we deserve to finish, so we will go out there and try and have a great game.”
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