Foster on historic loss: 'We got an upper cut'

Ian Foster called it an upper cut. Dane Coles labelled it a punch in the face. Their heaviest defeat in history sure flattened the All Blacks, leaving the need for rapid improvements two weeks out from the World Cup.

The final pre-World Cup test at Twickenham could hardly have been worse for the All Blacks.

With starting tighthead Tyrel Lomax suffering a deep and nasty gash to his thigh that threatens his availability and Scott Barrett’s two yellow cards leaving him contemplating a worrying date with the judiciary, the consequences of this 35-7 defeat could be far-reaching.

With Brodie Retallick and blindside Shannon Frizell sidelined until after the World Cup opener with France on September 8, the All Blacks are staring down the barrel of carrying only two fit locks, Sam Whitelock and Tupou Vaa’i, into their first pool match in Paris.

From a performance perspective, the list of areas in need of immediate attention is lengthy.

While the All Blacks were reduced to 14 men for 42 minutes following Barrett’s dismissal, their set piece - which has formed the backbone of their revival - faltered from the outset against the Boks. Discipline was poor, too, with eight straight penalties to open the match.

South Africa's Kwagga Smith charges over All Black Anton Lienert-Brown. Photo: Action Images via...
South Africa's Kwagga Smith charges over All Black Anton Lienert-Brown. Photo: Action Images via Reuters/Matthew Childs
Defensively, the All Blacks scrambled well on their line but they also fell off one-on-one tackles - and their handling errors gave up consistent turnovers.

All of which leaves Foster with plenty to lose sleep over. Not that he is pushing the panic button.

“The reality is if you could choose one trophy that wouldn’t be in your trophy cabinet at the end of the year it would be that one,” Foster said after witnessing the ruthless Springboks crush his side. “It’s not going to dampen us and what we’re doing but we certainly got an upper cut today.

“We got an upper cut in a couple of areas we’ve been making some big strides. We got squeezed today and exposed to a couple of habits that we’ve got to sort out. It’s a great time for that to happen and it also reiterates you’ve got to keep your players on the park.

“Losing our form lock at that stage of the game against South Africa doesn’t make life any easier. As we go into a World Cup it’s a very clear reminder about the importance of set piece; getting your scrum and lineout right and maintaining discipline.

“I’d rather have those lessons today a couple of weeks out from the World Cup than in a fortnight."

Head coach Ian Foster with the All Blacks after their loss to South Africa today. Photo: Getty...
Head coach Ian Foster with the All Blacks after their loss to South Africa today. Photo: Getty Images
Barrett’s fate hanging in the balance is not a situation the All Blacks wanted to consider. His ill-advised cleanout on Boks hooker Malcolm Marx, though, marks him as the only All Black in history to receive two red cards and, more pressingly, he is now facing a probable suspension.

“We’ll have to see what the process is. He got yellow-carded for it,” Foster said. “He was cleaning the guy on the left and he hit the guy on the right. We’ll see what comes out of that.

“It was hard work with 14 and the South Africans didn’t let us off the hook, they kept coming at us through the set piece and they kept squeezing it.”

Tyrel Lomax is helped onto a cart after sustaining a serious leg injury. Photo: Action Images via...
Tyrel Lomax is helped onto a cart after sustaining a serious leg injury. Photo: Action Images via Reuters/Matthew Childs
Lomax’s injury left him on crutches and appears certain to sideline him for some time. Just how long remains to be seen at this point, with Foster dismissing suggestions his World Cup campaign is over before it begins.

“I don’t know. I doubt it,” Foster said. “Tyrel is pretty bad actually. He’s got a big cut right through into the muscle of the thigh. We’ve got a little concern with some of the sharp plastic blade stuff that’s happening at the moment so we’ll have to check which boot that came from. It certainly wasn’t deliberate but Beauden [Barrett] got cut with the same sort of thing.

“Tyrel is not in a great way. There’s no doubt it was accidental but we’ve had two pretty significant cuts. We’ve got to make sure we’re looking after our players.”

Despite the humbling nature of this deflating defeat that will rock the squad’s confidence on the eve of the global showpiece, Foster is attempting to project a sense of calm. Behind the scenes, however, concerns about the significant step back will be prevalent.

“We know the circumstances we’re in and the goal we’re looking for. You can’t deny it wasn’t a good performance from us. We’ve got a couple of weeks to get that right but I fully believe we can.

“That performance is going to take a lot of heat off us. No one is going to rate us now which is quite nice. We’ll just go and prepare quietly and get stuck in.”

- By Liam Napier at Twickenham