Coach Dave Rennie is Australia’s dangerman going into the first Bledisloe Cup test against Ian Foster’s All Blacks in Wellington on Sunday.
For both it will be their first as head coach since Rennie replaced the sacked Michael Cheika and Foster took over from retired maestro Steve Hansen who recommended him.
In admitting that Rennie had the better Super Rugby record as mentor of the Chiefs, the amiable Foster said that should not define him for he has grown since.
In his eight years as Chiefs coach from 2004 to 2011, Foster made the finals twice, losing a semi-final to the Brumbies and a final to the Bulls. Other placings included two sixths, two sevenths, an 11th and 10th.
In succeeding him after successful provincial stints with Wellington and Manuwatu, Rennie’s Chiefs immediately won the Super Rugby crown in 2012 and retained it in 2013 with 37-6 and 27-22 wins against the Sharks and Brumbies respectively.
Previously, Rennie had also won three consecutive world titles as coach of the New Zealand Under-20 side.
His rookie Super Rugby streak has only been bettered by Scott Robertson whose Crusaders won in 2017-18-19 and who many believed should have won the All Blacks job ahead of Foster.
I expect Rennie to bring to the Wallabies the same hard-nosed, merciless streak he did to the Chiefs despite the fact the All Blacks are favourites to retain their lengthy Bledisloe Cup reign.
Foster’s claim that he is a much better coach than he was when he controlled the Chiefs is justified, having rubbed shoulders with the likes of Hansen and Wayne Smith.
Since joining Graham Henry’s staff in 2004, Hansen won 180, lost 25 and drew four.
As head coach he won 93 of 107 tests, lost 10 and drew four for an 88.79 per cent success rate. Henry’s was 85.43 per cent and Brian Lochore’s 77.8 per cent.
In the three years he reigned in the 1960s, Fred Allen won all 14 tests he coached.
Meanwhile we wait with bated breath to hear which 23 players from their 35-man squad Foster and his co-selectors will name for Sunday’s test.
On the basis of the superb form shown during Super Rugby Aotearoa, it should be a strong side no matter who is picked. Seldom has there been such depth of talent to choose from.
Still, it would be exciting to see rookies Hoskins Sotutu, Caleb Clarke and Will Jordan get some game time.
Having named rugged Sam Cane as captain, he will wear the No 7 jersey ahead of dynamic Ardie Savea who is the better openside flanker. Thus Savea will probably play No 6 or No 8, leaving Sotutu, Shannon Frizell and Akira Ioane as candidates for the remaining spot.
If current form is to be the guide, Richie Mo’unga deserves the No 10 jersey ahead of Beauden Barrett and I would like to see Anton Lienert-Brown and Rieko Ioane combine in the midfield.
Fullback should be another difficult choice between Damian McKenzie and Jordie Barrett now that Foster has stated he regards first-five as Beauden Barrett’s best position.
Meanwhile with Canterbury, Taranaki and Otago having lost it in successive weeks, the Ranfurly Shield continues to be a hot potato.
The latest 28-9 win by Hawkes Bay over Otago was much closer than the score indicated but fully deserved.
- Ivan Agnew is an award-winning sports writer and author