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All Blacks boss Ian Foster explains selections for Ireland showdown

By Alex McLeod
(Photos / Getty Images)

In preparation of one of the most significant tests of his side’s international campaign this year, All Blacks head coach Ian Foster has named a full-strength side to take on Ireland in Dublin on Sunday [NZT].

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That should come as little surprise given this weekend’s test has been earmarked as arguably the biggest match for New Zealand in 2021, with it being ranked alongside the pair of Rugby Championship games against the Springboks and next week’s season-ending clash against France in Paris.

As a result, an influx of stars and headline names have returned to the starting All Blacks lineup after a team of second-stringers and injury returnees spluttered to a 47-9 victory over Italy in Rome last weekend.

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All in all, only one player, Sevu Reece, has been retained in the starting side that eventually emerged victorious at Stadio Olimpico.

He has, however, been shifted to the left wing to accomodate for try-scoring machine Will Jordan in the No 14 jersey and to fill the void left by Rieko Ioane, who has been paired up alongside Anton Lienert-Brown in the midfield.

The decision to pick Lienert-Brown at second-five and Ioane at centre hands the duo their first chance to start alongside each other in the midfield at international level.

It isn’t the first time they’ve played with each other in those roles for the All Blacks, though, as Foster explained that their efforts in training and in the closing stages against Wales in Cardiff a fortnight ago gave him the confidence to start them together against the Irish.

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In that 54-16 win at Principality Stadium, Lienert-Brown started in the No 13 jersey alongside David Havili at No 12, but a backline reshuffle in the second half saw Ioane moved to centre from the left wing, with Lienert-Brown pushed into second-five.

Together, Ioane and Lienert-Brown helped the All Blacks wreak havoc in the Welsh capital as the Kiwis ran in 26 unanswered points in the final quarter of an hour, and Foster hopes for similar results in the early part of this weekend’s test.

“How we finished the Welsh game, I thought that last 20 minutes showed plenty of energy, so it’s a combination that’s been training together, and it did in preparation for that role it had two weeks ago,” Foster told media on Friday [NZT].

“The great attacking mindset it’s got, I think moving Rieko back in, it just changes the dynamics a little bit.”

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The tactical change also enables Reece to stay in the run-on XV after impressing in recent weeks following a lengthy period of minimal game time.

Despite promising outings against Fiji and the Wallabies throughout July and August, the 24-year-old flyer was used sparingly during the Australian leg of the Rugby Championship, earning just two starts against Los Pumas and the Springboks.

Instead, Ioane, Jordan and George Bridge dominated the wings for much of the competition, but a try-scoring cameo off the bench against Wales was enough compelling enough for the All Blacks to throw Reece a starting lifeline against Italy last week.

While it was a scrappy performance where few All Blacks stood out, Reece made his opportunity count with a second try in as many weeks and caught the eye with the energy he provided on the right edge.

That has proven to be enough to warrant a second start in a far more challenging fixture that holds much more weight in terms of importance to the All Blacks.

Foster indicated that his side will aim to implement a brand of highly-attacking rugby in what’s expected to be a tightly-contested and physically-taxing encounter, and pinpointed Reece as being a key part of those plans.

“I just felt for the first part of this game at this stage of the year, going in with a real attacking mindset, it’s an opportunity to bring Sevu into the starting lineup, and he’s bringing plenty of energy, so it’s probably as simple as that,” he said.

“I thought he was a little bit fidgety last week and, at some times, wasn’t as composed as I’d like to see him, but we’ve got a lot of faith in his desire to get involved in the game.

“Things can happen around him and he’s going to get exposed to a different degree of pressure in another way, and it’s a good chance for us to learn about him, but we know in these sort of games, he’s got the skill set to handle that, and he’s certainly got the enthusiasm to inject some energy into what we want to do.”

In the forward pack, Ethan Blackadder has come up trumps from a highly-competitive field of loose forwards to start in the No 6 jersey, beating out the likes of Akira Ioane, Luke Jacobson and Shannon Frizell to start at Aviva Stadium.

Foster justified Blackadder’s selection by outlining that the test rookie’s abrasive style of play is suited to how he anticipates the test against Ireland will pan out.

“It’s looking at utilising the different skill sets of some of the No 6 options we’ve got. It’s a very physical, close-quarter game up here, and I think that suits him,” Foster said.

“He’s got a lot of energy, he’s very uncompromising in what he does, and he’s adding the skill part to his game all the time.

“We know it’s going to be a battle up front. The Irish pack’s a tough pack, the breakdown’s important, and the quality of their ball-carrying and defence is important, and in a couple of those areas, Ethan’s made quite an impact for us.”

Foster also shot down the suggestion that, following his man-of-the-match performance in his 100th test against Wales, he views Beauden Barrett as his first-choice first-five after picking him to start at No 10 over Richie Mo’unga.

“I’ve got two quality 10s and we’re running with Beauden and that’s about as simple as I’ll say it. I’m really happy with both of them,” he said.

“In a messy game, Richie showed some great touches last week and showed what a quality footballer he is, but, I’ve said all along, I’ve got no qualms with both of them. We just feel that, right now, for what we want to do early, that Beaudy’s the one.”

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