This has been the first real “Test Series” in a long time. A few years ago they were the norm which made it easy to draw conclusions on who was best.
Four matches against Australia in consecutive weeks really sorts the men out from the boys. Players, teams and coaches compete head-on against their opponent and at the end of the series both parties know who won the battle. This was often was acknowledged over a beer at the after-match function.
Many will have watched the contest between the teams as it evolved. Coaches-by-trade and people like me were keenly observing the contest between the respective coaches. Rennie comes into the Wallaby Head Coach role fresh from success with the Chiefs in Super Rugby and Glasgow in the Pro 14. Foster has been groomed in the All Black environment to carry the mantle after Hanson. Both are good pathways, both have done the yards. This contest was won 2-1 by Foster but the intrigue continues as this is only the small picture.
Both coaches will be assessing their talent, looking at various combinations and strategies. This is the big picture and what a challenge! Australian rugby is full of talent. They have more registered rugby players than New Zealand and they have been much more successful at U20 level for the last 3 years. But they haven’t used their talent in the right way. On the other hand New Zealand have been flying high with a plethora of selection options and considerable depth.
The forth test was a huge turn around on the third and the selection was a surprise for most of us. But when you dig deeper it is easily understood. Rennie made six changes including the strategic selection of 10 and 12. Foster had proved his point with consistent selection and with the Bledisloe in the bag he made a whopping ten changes, many of which armchair selectors like myself had been calling for. The key decision makers are referred to as “the spine of the team.” Foster had the courage to change all of those positions: 2,8,9,10 and 15. The team fell short but the selection options would have clarified a lot in Foster’s mind. I’m quite sure we can look forward to more balanced combinations and consistency in selection of the All Black Test side.
So in short, the on-field contest was won by the All Blacks but the off-field contest is still very much unknown. It is now a matter of which coach uses this newly acquired knowledge and coaches his team to best utilise that talent.