Almost ten days ago now, New Zealand’s rugby team lost their four match in five games.

For the most successful sports team in history—of any international team—this was historic. Never before have the All Blacks lost four out of five games.

Not since 1994 have the All Blacks lost a home series. Never before had they been beaten by Ireland on New Zealand soil—and then it happened in consecutive weeks.

Never before have the All Blacks been ranked as low as their current ranking of fourth in the world, below Ireland, France and South Africa.

In this week of firsts, the New Zealand public demanded answers. Arm-chair punters were baying for blood, calling for the heads of captain Sam Cane and coach Ian Foster to roll.

Now that the dust has settled, and a tour to South Africa looms in a week and a half, what has change in the All Black’s set up?

Squad Remains Largely Unchanged

While some called for wholesale changes to the All Black’s playing squad, this has not happened.

Last week’s announcement of the squad to tour South Africa saw only minor tinkering, rather than any significant changes. Sam Cane retained his captaincy, not making way for Sam Whitelock or Ardie Savea has many hoped would happen. Prop Ethan de Groot returns to the squad, after inexplicably being left out for the Ireland series, with Europe-bound Karl Tu’inukuafe favored instead.

Perhaps the big loser is Chiefs number eight Pita Gus Sowakula. The barn-storming loosie came off the bench and scored an excellent try off the back of the scrum in the All Black’s win over Ireland in their first Test, and received few opportunities after this. Shannon Frizell comes into the squad instead, with the All Blacks seeking experience, and a specialist blind-side flanker.

Assistant Coaches Take the Fall

The big news out of the All Black’s camp over the last few days has been the axing of assistant coaches Brad Mooar and John Plumtree.

After staying silent on these changes, most likely for legal reasons, the announcement was made on Sunday that both assistants would be exiting the All Blacks set up immediately. This represents the first time an All Blacks coach has had their contract terminated in such a manner, considering that both had just been extended to 2023.

Mooar and Plumtree had been in the All Blacks coaching team since 2019, having been shoulder tapped by head coach Ian Foster when he took over the reins. Mooar’s appointment allegedly came at a cost of NZ$400,000 to New Zealand’s rugby team, as a payout was required to release him from his existing contract.

One can only assume that the early severance of these two contracts also came at a heavy cost to New Zealand’s rugby team.

Jason Ryan Called Up to Coach Forwards

Jason Ryan will be counting his lucky stars, as the Crusaders and Fiji forwards coach has been the beneficiary of these changes, getting called up to the All Blacks coaching team with immediate effect.

Ryan has worked with the Crusaders under Scott Robertson, and achieved great success, as the Super Rugby team has won six of the last six titles in the competition. The forwards coach has also brought about a shift in Fiji’s national team through his work with their forwards as well.

Ryan steps in to directly replace John Plumtree, with Ian Foster temporarily taking over the backs coaching role in place of Brad Mooar, and Joe Schmidt having more of a strategic and analytical role, working with Foster on the bigger picture.

Are these changes enough to revitalise a struggling All Blacks side? On the one hand, they are little more than minor tinkers; however, wholesales changes, as appealing as they are to talk about in headlines, may not be what a national team needs 13 months out from a World Cup.

The next month or so of New Zealand’s rugby should be telling—back-to-back wins in South Africa would certainly be a step in the right direction.

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