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Foster succeeds Hansen as New Zealand All Blacks head coach

WELLINGTON, New Zealand (AP) — Long-time assistant Ian Foster has been confirmed as All Blacks head coach to succeed Steve Hansen after an appointment process shunned by some candidates who saw it as flawed and untimely.

The 54-year-old Foster has been assistant coach since 2012, helping Hansen guide the team to its third World Cup title in 2015. Hansen stepped down after New Zealand's third-place finish in this year's World Cup in Japan, ending a seven-year tenure as head coach and a 15-year role in the wider All Blacks coaching team.

Foster's initial appointment is for only two years, not through the 2023 World Cup as might have been expected, suggesting an almost probationary start to his head coaching career. "I feel truly privileged and honored to be given this opportunity and I can't wait to lead the team into the next chapter," he said. “I'm incredibly proud of what we have achieved in the All Blacks over the last eight years and I'm excited and energized by a new coaching team who will join me.”

New Zealand Rugby approached 26 coaches it saw as potential candidates when it began its search for Hansen's replacement at the end of the World Cup last month. Some leading candidates, including Dave Rennie, who has since been appointed as Australia head coach, and Japan coach Jamie Joseph, chose not to seek the All Blacks position because of the timing. Because New Zealand Rugby waited until Hansen left before beginning to consider his replacement, Rennie and Joseph opted for the security of jobs already offered them.

Former Wales coach Warren Gatland, who will coach the Hamilton-based Chiefs in Super Rugby from next year, also chose not to apply because of his commitment to coach the British and Irish Lions in South Africa in 2021.

That left Foster and Scott Robertson, who has led the Christchurch-based Crusaders to the Super Rugby title in each of the last three years, as the main contenders. Foster always seemed the preferred candidate, and some rival candidates were also deterred by what they saw as a pre-determined decision.

New Zealand Rugby sees the appointment of Foster as providing continuity with the Hansen era, during which the All Blacks won almost 88 percent of test matches. Many fans believe Hansen's departure offered New Zealand the chance to refresh the team under an entirely new coach — not part of the previous regime.

While acknowledging Foster's sound record as an assistant coach, critics have highlighted his poor record as a head coach. He coached the Chiefs from 2004 to 2011, during which they reached the Super Rugby semifinals twice and the final once. The Chiefs won the Super Rugby title, under Rennie, in each of the two years after Foster left.

The appointment panel that chose Foster comprised NZR chairman Brent Impey, incoming chief executive Mark Robinson, NZR head of high performance Mike Anthony, former All Blacks coach Graham Henry and former New Zealand netball coach and High Performance Sport New Zealand director Waimarama Taumaunu.

"These are exciting times," Robinson said. "Ian has pulled together a very strong team and he is an outstanding person in his own right with a high-quality set of values. "He is committed to stamping his own mark on the team and it's clear that he and his coaching team want to bring a new and fresh energy into the All Blacks environment."

Foster has yet to name his assistants but current Hurricanes coach John Plumtree, former Crusaders assistant Brad Mooar, former All Blacks prop and Ireland scrum coach Greg Feek, All Blacks defense coach Scott McLeod and Japan-based former All Blacks flyhalf David Hill are reported to be in his sights.

"Unfortunately I can't tell you who they are just yet because we've got some contractual issues to work through and a few phone calls to make," Foster said. "There's a bit of experience, but also quite a bit of youth in the group coming in."

To many observers, Foster appears to be taking over an All Blacks team which has declined in the last few years. Until 2016 New Zealand had never lost a test to Ireland but has now done so twice in the last three years. The All Blacks also had record losses in recent seasons to South Africa and Australia and the semifinal loss to England this year was one of their most emphatic defeats at a World Cup.

A number of senior players, including captain Kieran Read, ended their international careers at the World Cup. The future of others is uncertain and some, including lock Brodie Retallick, are about to take advantage of sabbatical clauses in their contracts which will see them play overseas in the next two years.

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