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Aisle be Back: the end of the year and the elephant in the room

Mid December and summer just starting and the National 7s this weekend in Tauranga – but we are now closer to the start of the 2020 rugby season than we are to the end of the this year’s season so enjoy the rugby break.

  • By Falkland Islands correspondent Kevin McCarthy.

So this is Christmas and what have you done?

Enough of pinching Lennon lyrics, but the year is nearly over, and no-one could ever accuse it of not being busy.  Whether it was productive is another matter.

Keeping it just on rugby, I’ve got a distinct feeling that for all the busy-ness of a World Cup year, and a new All Black coach, there’s a real lack of that dreaded word – closure.

The elephant in the room – the All Blacks’ let us face it, miserable failure in Japan – is not so much being ignored, but in fact given a new set of clothes and a name badge reading I’m An Elephant – What’s Your Problem?

I seriously imagined there’d be a proper post-mortem post-Japan, and that we people on the outside – call us stakeholders if you must – would get to at least some understanding for what imploded at the World Cup.

That doesn’t seem to have happened, and with Ian  Foster now the new coach – he at least should know where the skeletons are buried – it ain’t going to happen, you would think.

I’ve seen the odd interview from players about brutal debriefs. And then last week, Steve Hansen trotted out the line that the team were mentally off before the England match, and gee, well that was his fault. It felt more like running cover for Ian Foster’s bid than an insight into what went wrong.

The focus on the England game alone is dangerous. After all, it was a campaign, and the planning and execution was over a four-year cycle. So was there anything that anyone would do differently? You’d have to think so.

I get that there might be a reluctance to kick Steve Hansen on the way out the door of a magnificent coaching tenure. That isn’t the intent but it shouldn’t preclude a proper analysis of the Cup calamity.

Maybe that has or is happening but there’s precious little sign of it. I said immediately after the semi exit that New Zealand rugby’s genius was that it went through a convulsion after major watersheds.

This time around, I think I’ve got that wrong. We seem to have rolled over and accepted we were beaten on the day. The NZR seems to be talking about the past like it’s a different country and in the sort of crabbed corporate speak guaranteed to fool not very many.

I’m not calling for the ridiculous bloodletting and public shaming of the past. Just some directness and accountability to the fans.

Anything else isn’t the New Zealand way, to my mind. We may well pay a price.

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Ian Foster. By Getty Images (via NZRU release).

No doubt most fans would have liked Razor over Fozzie.  Now we’re going to find out the answer – but only partially. After all, we actually don’t know how Robertson would go over the next four years; it’s not a lab experiment you can run.

Foster on the other hand gets to be the lab rat. And boy, is he going to be scrutinised.

He wasn’t my choice, but it’s time to rally round the flag boys and girls. He’s our coach, and he’ll bring on board some strong assistants (John Plumtree anyone?).

Out of the shadow of Steve Hansen, he will have a couple of years to reshape the team. His hand of cards will be very different.

If the team struggles in 2020 and 2021, we can expect all sorts of blood on the floor and pressure to wield the axe on the coach. It would be the sort of instability New Zealand fans have forgotten actually exists when you are back in the pack.

It would be  a stretch to say it would be fun. But it would certainly be different, and hey, different is good. You just know we were sick of all that winning.

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The next Super Rugby season is coming up fast, I can report. Players are frequently seen running off their Christmas pudding, even before they have eaten it.

For Canes fans, it must feel like there was a decent amount of pressies under the tree, even though the biggest present of all got nicked by the Blues. Still, who wanted a Ferrari when you are getting a Toyota.

Then our prize remaining bauble announced he was out with injury for much of the Super season.

And now there’s a danger the chief elf is going to vanish too, given he may join the All Blacks at the North Pole.

It all seems a bit unfair. After all, 2019 was actually in retrospect a very good season for the Canes, who came oh so close to knocking over the Crusaders. Frustrating and all that.

Well it is what it is. That could be the Hurricanes 2020 mantra. Here’s hoping that out of adversity, and using what is still a pretty talented squad, the side can still fashion a very good next season.

I wish you all an excellent rest over the holidays. Let’s face it, you’re probably going to need it.

 

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