Former All Blacks head coach, Ian Foster, has raised concerns about the current state of Super Rugby, emphasising the need for significant changes to prevent the All Blacks from lagging behind the global rugby scene.
Once the pinnacle of club rugby, Super Rugby has experienced a gradual decline in interest, quality, and competitiveness.
Following unsuccessful attempts to expand the tournament, the 2020 Covid-induced adjustments led to the exclusion of South African franchises, leaving only New Zealand and Australia in the mix.
While Moana Pasifika and Fijian Drua joined to create Super Rugby Pacific, Foster believes it falls short compared to the spectacle offered by European competitions.
In a recent interview with The Platform, Foster emphasised the urgent need for attention to revitalise Super Rugby. He expressed the importance of ensuring a vibrant competition where players face diverse playing styles.
“The Super Rugby competition needs a massive amount of attention,” Foster said.
“We’ve got to make sure Super Rugby’s a viable competition, and that our players are playing as much as possible, and are playing teams with a diverse way of playing.
Reflecting on the impact of Covid, which led to New Zealand teams playing within their own country (Super Rugby Aotearoa), Foster believes the recovery took a toll on international performance in 2022 and 2023.
“Through necessity, we got narrowed down a bit through Covid and we ended up playing ourselves (in Super Rugby Aotearoa). I think it took us the best part of 2022 and 2023 to recover a little bit internationally.
“What the solutions are, I’m not sure, but it’s got to be at the top of the tree (to sort out).”
While acknowledging the challenges, Foster admitted uncertainty about the solutions but emphasised the necessity of addressing Super Rugby’s issues promptly.
Foster also highlighted concerns about player development pathways in New Zealand. Despite having dominant age-grade teams in the past, the under-20 teams have faced challenges in recent years.
Foster stressed that strong Super Rugby clubs are crucial for the success of the All Blacks, and developing a robust system underneath is essential.
“It’s critical for the All Blacks that we have strong Super Rugby clubs and I think we have, but the only way to grow those clubs is to develop and fine-tune our development system underneath that,” the former New Zealand head coach said.
“There’s confusion in that area of how we develop players. We haven’t nailed the U20 age group for a decent amount of time.”
The former head coach believes that Scott Robertson, his successor, should face no significant challenges in building a quality All Blacks side.
“I think we’ve lost eight players and of the eight you would say six are iconic. The reality is that happens at every World Cup and the number that we’ve lost this year is almost smaller than the last two World Cups,” he added.
Despite the departure of key players, Foster sees a positive future for the team, pointing out that the youth infusion in the last two years bodes well for the next World Cup cycle. He notes the emergence of younger players who are likely to contribute significantly in the coming years.
“Something that has perhaps gone a little bit unnoticed, if you look at the last two years, a lot of younger guys have come into the team.
“A lot of that team is likely to be there in another four years. In particular, the youth of some of that forward pack is gold. That holds us in really good stead at the top for the next period.”
Foster’s call for Super Rugby reform echoes the need for a strategic overhaul from a New Zealand perspective to retain their place as a top tier rugby nation.