New Zealand has produced some fantastic coaches. Usually, they are easy to pick. The first letter I received from Arch Jelley inspired confidence. This guy knew what he was talking about. You could accept his direction. And for 40 years I and many others have done just that. The first meeting I had with Arthur Lydiard provided the same confidence. Mark Schubert (USA), Lincoln Hurring, Judith Wright and Ross Anderson were all master coaches. They knew the product and they knew how to pass on their knowledge with confidence and purpose.

Swimming in New Zealand is blessed with coaches capable of becoming a Jelley or a Lydiard, a Schubert or a Hurring. There are many examples. I do not want to mention names because inevitably I would miss many who should be included. But there are two I have come across recently who deserves mention. Both helped Eyad through the 2022 Mare Nostrum series and World Championships – Andy McMillan and Graham Smith. I will watch their coaching exploits with admiration and awe.

Let me tell you a story of the difference a good coach can make. Several years ago, Jane Copland was 12 or 13. We were in Auckland staying at Arthur Lydiard’s Beachlands home. Jane had already won the Auckland Championships age group 50 and100m breaststroke. On the final day of the meet, I entered her in the 100m freestyle.

She swam well in the heat and qualified fourth for the final. Back at Arthur’s place for lunch, Arthurs asked how Jane had got on in the heats. Jane said she had done well but would never win the final. The fastest qualifier was a terrific freestyle swimmer called Caroline Collard. Caroline was good too. I thought she had the talent to better the records set by Toni Jeffs.

As we prepared to leave for the finals, Arthur came downstairs and said, “I think I’ll come and watch tonight.” I could see the surprise on Jane’s face. Why was Arthur coming tonight? Why didn’t he watch the two races I had won?

An hour later we were driving across Auckland to the pool. Arthur rummaged around in his bag and handed Jane a Rocky Road chocolate bar. “Eat this,” he said, “it will help your race tonight, but remember this if you can turn together with that fast girl at 50m, because of the aerobic work you have done, she will never live with you in the second length.”

I could see Jane, sitting in the backseat, munching her way through Arthur’s chocolate bar, clearly thinking, “Arthur says turn with her at 50m and I can win the race.”

Two hours later Jane and Caroline did turn together at 50m and Jane pulled ahead in the second 50m to win. Now, that is coaching genius. That’s a gift. I’ve seen Arch do the same thing. The good coaches instill belief.

And then we have the All Black’s coach, Ian Foster. I don’t see it. I don’t feel it. I never have. The gift of coaching greatness is missing. He accepted the job of coaching a New Zealand foiling rocket ship and somehow has produced the Mary Celeste. Please excuse the mixed metaphors but his team of brilliant players run around the field like headless chickens – without direction, purpose or belief. What Arthur gave to Jane, Foster cannot provide.

Look at this list of facts.

  • A week ago, Foster was at home recovering from Covid and others stepped into his coaching role. The result? A win to the All Blacks.
  • Foster ended up ordering 15 players onto the field when the team were reduced to 14.
  • Foster removed a player in a way that meant the player had to sit out the rest of the game.
  • In his press conference after the game, he blamed mistakes and bad luck – anything but himself.
  • His coaching record at the Chiefs was 50%. He is in the process of repeating that number with the All Blacks.

Truth is, Saturday’s test match was like Monte Python’s flying circus. Sadly, Foster may get away with the shambles – again. He has a superb team of gifted players. They may be capable of pulling together a performance that wins the Wellington test. But, make no mistake, that will not be because of the way they were coached. The best coaching news the All Blacks could get this week is for someone to find a way of keeping Foster at home in Hamilton.

And whether Foster shaves for a week will not be important. Because the only razor this team needs lives in Christchurch. Foster is not up to the job of coaching this team. He does not display the skills of a Jelley or a Schubert or a Lydiard. He must go.

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