The back-story to that painfully awkward Joe Schmidt handshake
Looks so much worse in slow motion.
It has been another week of lurching between crisis and comebacks for the All Blacks, and all that passionately follow rugby in New Zealand. Joe Schmidt is already making his mark, though.
Ian Foster's side have won three matches and lost four - two against Ireland, once to South Africa and another historic home loss to Argentina - and that is coming off the back of closing out 2021 with defeats to Ireland and France.
Joe Schmidt is in the All Blacks' coaching set-up now, and many rugby fans could not help but notice how awkward the post-match scenes looked in Hamilton, this evening, after they dusted Argentina 53-3. Jason Ryan [in the front row] was certainly not worrying too much about Schmidt's shake, or pat on the back:
Joe Schmidt needs one more week for full acceptance it seems. #NZLvARG pic.twitter.com/IyWBwwkupO
— Mark Stafford (@stafnz) September 3, 2022
How Joe Schmidt rose to position of ABs prominence
Ian Foster has been under the pump ever since England comprehensively beat New Zealand in the 2019 World Cup semi-final. The New Zealand Rugby Union opted to keep Foster on, with the 2023 World Cup already in mind, but there were some backroom tweaks.
There was no Rugby Championship in 2020, due to the Covid pandemic, but the All Blacks won the 2021 Rugby Championship. They were on course for a clean sweep until the Springboks beat them in the final game. That was the first wobble. Their November trip to the northern hemisphere started well, but Ireland and France were deserving winners, in Dublin and Paris.
The NZRU have held multiple reviews, at this stage, and brought in Joe Schmidt for his expertise. The former Leinster and Ireland head coach was initially coming on-board as a selector, but now has a hand in coaching and strategy calls, with a bit responsibility for the AB's attack.
Schmidt's stamp was all over the First Test win over Ireland, earlier this summer, but Foster returned from a spell in Covid isolation and his side lost their next two outings against Andy Farrell's men and the Test Series was lost.
Following that series, Brad Mooar and John Plumtree were paid out of their coaching contracts, with Jason Ryan coming in as forwards coach and Schmidt given 'a key analysis role' and working 'with Foster on overall strategy and attack play'.
Foster survived a review after that series defeat to Ireland but was informed that signs of progress needed to be shown on their swing to South Africa. His side were well beaten in the first game and several well placed Kiwi rugby reporters have stated that an NZRU official went to Christchurch and offered the head coach job to Scott Robertson of the Crusaders.
If Robertson said yes, he would have to wait, though. New Zealand beat the Springboks in their next game and Foster was safe, for another while.
Last weekend saw Joe Schmidt take more of a hands-on role with the team, as he did not make the trip to South Africa. The ABs were stunned by Argentina, though, and were plunged right back into crisis.
Schmidt took over from Foster as the main man looking after the attacking game-plan, with Ryan handed the additional selector's brief.
Against Los Pumas, this week, New Zealand put in their best performance of 2022 and won 53-3. It was ruthless and effective, focusing on simple but punishing rugby in slick conditions. There were a lot less offloads than usual - a true Joe Schmidt stamp on proceedings.
At full-time, there were plenty of handshakes going around, but Schmidt missed out on a couple. Played at full speed, you may just pass a remark. With that slow motion replay, plot lines and historic gripes and grudges came to mind.
Ryan will have understandable loyalty to Robertson, and the Crusaders coach would most likely be in the top job had it not been for Schmidt.
As it is, Foster may yet last until the World Cup, next autumn. Having Schmidt to call on may yet see him through, and force Robertson to wait another year, at least.
Two games remain in The Rugby Championship against Australia. If the All Blacks can win both, they could yet claim more silverware and there will be more opportunities to focus on handshakes.