All Blacks job puts Robertson’s Crusaders role in spotlight

WELLINGTON, New Zealand (AP) — The ACT Brumbies and Christchurch-based Crusaders will meet Friday in a fifth-round match in Super Rugby Pacific which might attract more attention on the coaches than the players.

Crusaders head coach Scott Robertson was announced this week as the next All Blacks head coach, to take from Ian Foster after this year’s World Cup in France. Performances of the Crusaders inevitably will now viewed through that lens.

New Zealand Rugby created a precedent — and uncomfortable situation — by appointing a new All Blacks coach while the current coach still has seven months on his contract, including a World Cup.

In preparing the team for the world tournament in France, Foster will feel Robertson’s breath on the back of his neck.

He faces an unpredictable future as he seeks to become the fourth All Blacks coach to win a World Cup. The other three, Brian Lochore, Graham Henry and Steve Hansen, all were knighted at least partly because of their World Cup success. Foster will receive the order of the boot.

Robertson’s was a popular appointment but if the Crusaders have a less than stellar season — they already have lost two out of four and might lose to the Brumbies who are unbeaten — reservations may grow about his appointment.

Robertson was chosen as All Blacks coach entirely on the basis of his body of work with the Crusaders: six titles in various Super Rugby competitions. His only other experience is an unsuccessful tenure as coach of the New Zealand Under-20 team.

If the Crusaders have form issues, Robertson will have to devote more attention to his Super Rugby responsibilities than the All Blacks. He will soon have to make additions to his All Blacks coaching team and begin preparations to take over as soon as Foster finishes.

Robertson says he doesn’t yet know how and when the process of appointing assistants will occur.

“I’ve got a few questions myself to be honest,” he said. “We will do that, we will work behind the scenes. But my main focus here is with the Crusaders and this season.”

Robertson said the Crusaders administration will support him in his All Black role.

“They said ‘we’re right behind you and we’d love you to get the job’. So I just feel like I can be myself and get on with it,” he said. “Like I said I’m back here now, Crusaders coach.”

Brumbies coach Stephen Larkham also has issues to face this weekend as his team takes on the defending champions. Larkham has to rotate some players in order to rest Wallabies members of his squad according to Rugby Australia’s policy in a World Cup year.

Captain James Slipper, scrumhalf Nic White and backrowers Rob Valetini and Pete Samu all will miss the game while their Wallabies teammates Len Ikitau and Darcy Swain are out with injuries.

“We’ve had to rotate in a few areas but we’ve backed our depth and our connection as a squad from the start and every player who gets on the plane knows the responsibility that comes with the jersey,” Larkham said.

“We’ve laid a good foundation for the season in the first couple of weeks and we’re excited to get back to New Zealand as a group and take on this challenge against a side we have a lot of respect for.”

The only other unbeaten team after four rounds, the Hamilton-based Chiefs, will take on the New South Wales Waratahs at Sydney, also on Friday.

The Chiefs have several players returning after taking mandatory rest-breaks last weekend under New Zealand Rugby policy which limits the workload on All Blacks.

All Blacks captain Sam Cane, lock Brodie Retallick, scrumhalf Brad Weber and flyhalf Damian McKenzie all will be back in action. McKenzie will play his 100th Super Rugby game.

“Our performance last week had moments of brilliance mixed with a lot of poor decision-making and execution,” coach Clayton McMillan said. “We will need to be more clinical if we want to take the points against a dangerous and hurting Waratahs side.”

In other fifth-round matches, the Highlanders host the Fijian Drua at Dunedin, New Zealand, Moana Pasifika and the Hurricanes meet at Auckland and the Melbourne Rebels host the Queensland Reds, all on Saturday. The Blues host the Western Force at Auckland to conclude the round on Sunday.


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