Rugby: Ian Foster reflects on turbulent All Blacks season, looks ahead to colossal 2023

In an All Blacks season that's at times stumbled, coach Ian Foster is looking back with pride at what his team has been able to accomplish in 2022.

Despite a start that saw a historic series defeat to Ireland, and come close to being the first All Blacks coach in the professional era to be sacked, Foster has quietly begun to turn his fortunes around.

After Sunday's 25-all draw against England, the All Blacks are on an unbeaten run of seven tests, and secured the Freedom Cup against South Africa, Bledisloe Cup against Australia and the Rugby Championship as part of a southern clean sweep.

England celebrate drawing against the All Blacks at Twickenham.
England celebrate drawing against the All Blacks at Twickenham. Photo credit: Getty Images

And even in the wake of throwing away a certain test victory at Twickenham last weekend, Foster's pride at the All Blacks' efforts is evident.

All up, the All Blacks finished with a record of 8-4-1 from their 12 tests played. 

"I think when you look at the first four or five tests, we won one out of three against Ireland, and one out of two against South Africa, it was a tough start to the year," Foster said.

"We dropped one against Argentina. Four of the losses were in the first six games. We've made some big strides since then.

"Interestingly enough, we beat every team that beat us. The reality is we've shown we can play at a high level, and I think we've shown some growth.

"The nice thing is - going into the next 12 months - it's clear we've got some areas to improve. I think we're in a spot that we can actually go away and look at next year with a bit of confidence."

The All Blacks celebrate.
The All Blacks celebrate. Photo credit: Getty Images

Now, the focus will undoubtedly shift to 2023, where the All Blacks' aim will be to recapture the Webb Ellis Cup in France.

The nature of the draw against England, where the All Blacks squandered a 25-6 lead in the final 10 minutes, does give Foster plenty of room for thought over the coming months.

Like they did against the Wallabies in Melbourne, the All Blacks failed to close out what should have been a routine victory. 

And while they escaped with a win - courtesy of a time wasting call against Bernard Foley - on that occasion, drawing against England gives a tangible reminder of the All Blacks' need to be ruthless.

"I'm probably a bit more glass half full," he continued. "We've gone through this tour unbeaten.

"If we'd nailed that last part, which we should have no doubt about that [we'd have beaten England]. We've got to learn that composure to win those games.

The All Blacks celebrate Jordie Barrett's winning try against Australia in Melbourne.
The All Blacks celebrate Jordie Barrett's winning try against Australia in Melbourne. Photo credit: Photosport

"But the fact of the matter is, we finished the tour in a pretty strong place, but there's enough there to niggle away at us.

"We know we've got to move a bit for a World Cup."

Foster also states he's moving closer to a complete understanding of what his best XV actually is.

Throughout 2022, different players have been used in different positions and combinations, with an unclear situation about just who'll wear 1 to 15 when the World Cup kicks off on September 8.

But as far as Foster is concerned, plenty can - and will - happen between the end of 2022, and the start of the 2023 international campaign.

"We've got a very clear outline now, but the key is not to get too fixated on that. There's a lot to happen.

"There's value of competition in the squad, there'll be a lot of people going back to Super Rugby.

"A lot can happen in the next six to eight months. 

"That's all been part of this planning, to make sure we don't get too fixated on a XV so that when we get to a World Cup, we don't have other options."