How do you follow Steve Hansen and an era when the All Blacks dominated the world of rugby union? That is the question that New Zealand’s new head coach Ian Foster must answer.
Just like his predecessor, he has spent the previous seven years as an assistant, so this changing of the guard has some continuity in it besides the obvious succession. Foster and fellow former Chiefs boss Dave Rennie will now lock horns over the Bledisloe Cup and The Rugby Championship, as the latter has now taken charge of Australia.
While the Wallabies have some major rebuilding work to do under their own Kiwi coach, New Zealand are expected to make a much more seamless transition as a new Rugby World Cup cycle begins.
Come that next global tournament in 2023, the All Blacks are 7/4 favourites in the outright rugby union betting to regain their crown from fellow Southern Hemisphere nation South Africa. Japan 2019 conquerors England are joint-second best with the Springboks in the market.
In order to be worthy of those odds, New Zealand must go two stages further at the next Rugby World Cup from the last; so, what calls does Foster need to get right? First and foremost, he needs a new All Blacks captain.
Kieran Read heads a list of high-profile international retirements following Japan, but there are still senior players aplenty to choose from for his successor as skipper. New Zealand second-row Sam Whitelock, and scrum-half Aaron Smith, look the obvious candidates.
Luckily for Foster, the vast majority of the forward pack from the last Rugby World Cup are still available for selection. The only absentees are hooker Dane Coles, but Codie Taylor is a more than adequate replacement, and Brodie Retallick at lock who is only on a sabbatical from international duty, while he sees out a two-year contract for his club rugby in Japan.
The biggest change to the All Blacks will be in midfield, as Foster must manage without both Ryan Crotty and cross-codes rugby star Sonny Bill Williams at centre. Anton Lienert-Brown will now have to step up and become a leader among the backs, with fullback Ben Smith also calling time on his international career.
One constant of recent New Zealand sides Foster will still be able to call upon, however, are the members of the Barrett family. Fly-half Beauden has had some very big boots to fill as kicker and successor to Dan Carter in recent years, but relished the challenge and acquitted himself well.
Younger Barrett brother and utility back Jordie may finally get to nail down a position, with the 15 and centre jerseys seemingly up for grabs. Middle sibling Scott, meanwhile, could be the main beneficiary of that international break for Retallick in the second row.
Given the recent success of the Canterbury Crusaders in Super Rugby, there are proven winners who could come into the All Blacks setup who are as yet untried at the highest level. Foster is not exactly short on talent, so – although this is a time of transition – the issues New Zealand face don’t look too taxing.