Ian Foster did not know for sure that his All Blacks team had won the Rugby Championship when he spoke to the media after the 40-14 win over Australia on Saturday, but he could not disguise his satisfaction at a third straight win.
Ultimately, South Africa’s later 38-21 win over Argentina in Durban was insufficient to steal the title so the All Blacks were crowned champions for the eighth time in the early hours of the morning New Zealand time.
It was a 19th southern hemisphere title in 26 seasons since rugby went professional but even the most ardent fan would not claim it was a vintage All Blacks campaign.
Still, after losing a home series to Ireland in July and a first home test to Argentina, coach Foster was reasonably happy with how his team were looking with a year to go until the World Cup.
“We’ve done some good problem solving. We’ve worked hard. It’s given this team a bit of steel,” he told reporters in Auckland.
“And it’s given us some harsh lessons we wish we didn’t have to live with, but we did. In those situations, you either fold and walk away because it’s too hard or you buckle up and get stuck into work.
“We’re growing belief, but we’ve still got some steps to go.”
The All Blacks remain fourth in the world rankings but will at least now take a winning record (5-4) on their November tour when they will play Japan, Wales, Scotland and England.
The lack of consistency his team have shown this year will still rankle with many All Blacks fans but Foster said a full assessment of the season would have to wait.
“Right now we can only do what’s in front of us which was to finish this championship really strong,” he added.
“I’ve forgotten about the rollercoaster, to be honest, I’m just happy in the moment … we look at the last half of the championship and we’re really pleased with what we’ve done.”
Foster said a convincing win over Australia, especially coming after the tight 39-37 victory in Melbourne last week, should not be underestimated.
“It’s a loseable game when you play Australia at the moment, we saw last week how good and dangerous they can be,” he said.
“We had to be on our game and we had to improve. We highlighted some areas where had some edges last week and I think we were a lot more ruthless in the way we exploited them.”