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All Blacks boss Ian Foster explains team selection for Wales test

By Alex McLeod
(Photos / Getty Images)

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As expected, the All Blacks have named a full-strength, or as close to full-strength as possible, team to face Wales in their first test of the European leg of their end-of-year tour this weekend.

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The vast majority of those predicted to feature in Ian Foster’s starting XV, and on the bench, have been named to play in Cardiff on Sunday [NZT] as the Kiwis aim to extend their unbeaten run against Wales beyond 68 years.

In saying that, however, there are still notable selection decisions evident throughout New Zealand’s run-on side, namely in the loose forwards, an area of the All Blacks squad that has come under the microscope in recent times.

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As it stands, the All Blacks have eight back rowers on deck as part of an enlarged roster designed to withstand the rigours of a three-month tour abroad.

By carrying eight loose forwards, the All Blacks currently have two, possibly three, more back rowers in their camp than they normally ever would.

With squads expected to shrink next year in the hope that travel and quarantine restrictions are eased in a post-Covid world, the pressure is very much on New Zealand’s loose forwards to retain their places in the national side in 2022.

Therefore, the selection of players in tests of significance like this week’s clash against Wales, and upcoming fixtures in Ireland and France, is a reflection of their standing in the national pecking order.

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That was always a given, but a particular sense of intrigue has surrounded the loose forwards given the return of incumbent captain Sam Cane from a six-month injury and Shannon Frizell, who has overcome visa issues to reunite with the squad.

Their additions to Foster’s squad has bloated his back row stocks, and pundits have been eager to see how he will fit them in amongst a cohort of loose forwards who have, for the most part, been spectacular in Cane’s and Frizell’s absence.

Considering their form and development growth this year, there is very little that separates Dalton Papalii, Luke Jacobson, Akira Ioane and Ethan Blackadder from joining Ardie Savea, the only certainty to start, in the match day team for major tests.

Factor in the seniority, leadership and experience of Cane, and it is clear to see how much of a dogfight there is to be picked as one of the three starting loose forwards, or to feature off the bench.

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It’s no surprise, then, that the first point of discussion at Friday’s [NZT] All Blacks team naming press conference was centred around the selection of Blackadder at blindside flanker and Papalii at openside to accompany Savea at No 8 against Wales.

In the lead-up to the end-of-year tests, it had been Ioane who stood as the preferred option in the No 6 jersey as he had formed an impressive combination with Papalii and Savea throughout the July tests and the Rugby Championship.

The 26-year-old had been particularly outstanding against the Wallabies in the Bledisloe Cup series, but has since been demoted to the bench in place of Blackadder after a pair of anonymous showings against the Springboks in recent weeks.

Likewise, the backing of Papalii’s youthful exuberance – after he missed the highly-anticipated tests against South Africa through injury – over Cane’s credentials at openside flanker also caught the eye, but Foster said both players are deserving of their starts.

“The selection process is pretty much the same as ordinary in terms of we just go through who we think is right to play,” Foster told reporters.

“We’ve really been delighted with Ethan, the way he’s progressing, and felt that he warranted a start. He’s filled a number of roles for us, but it’s a chance for him to really go out there and focus on his role at 6.

“Dalton had missed quite a bit of the Rugby Championship, came back through the States game last week and, again, he played really well at the start of the Rugby Championship and felt that he deserved a start here.”

Last week’s 104-14 thrashing of the USA Eagles in Washington DC paved the way for both Cane and veteran hooker Dane Coles to join Papalii in making their long-awaited test rugby comebacks.

Similarly to Cane, Coles had been out of action for two months due to a persistent calf injury, but he too has missed the cut to square off against the Welsh.

Instead, Foster has backed youngster Samisoni Taukei’aho to support incumbent rake Codie Taylor from off the bench in a selection move that indicates how much the former has progressed since his test debut against the Wallabies in August.

“It was just important to get some minutes under their belt. They’ve had a couple of really good training weeks,” Foster said of the performances of Cane and Coles at FedEx Field.

“I think we flagged early on that we didn’t really want to be in a hurry to get them back into test match level until they’ve had a few solid weeks of training, so we’re just carrying out that plan, but that’s going according to plan at the moment, which is pleasing.”

In the backline, the ongoing battle for first-five supremacy has this week been won by Beauden Barrett as he celebrates his 100th test as an All Black.

Accounting for their form and respective talents, expect Barrett and Richie Mo’unga to alternate the No 10 jersey as the tour progresses, but the spotlight will be firmly cast on the former this week as he brings up a ton of caps for his country.

“He’s playing well. He’s been running this team for the last couple of months, and so we felt he deserved the opportunity,” Foster said of the two-time World Rugby Player of the Year.

“Clearly it’s his 100th test and I think he’s in a really good place to go and celebrate that with a game that really means a lot to him. It’s a big occasion in Wales, he’s on top of his game, so we’re really delighted with that selection.”

Despite his error-ridden effort off the pine against the USA, TJ Perenara has earned the nod at halfback ahead of Brad Weber in a move that Foster suggested has a sentimental element about it given his former halves partnership with Barrett at the Hurricanes.

“I don’t think TJ had his best 20 minutes in the States, but it was a very festival mood in that game by the time he got on,” Foster explained.

“Before that, we’d been really pleased with his game and we were delighted with Brad when he started against South Africa in that second test, so we’ve got three 9s who we think are playing well.

“This is our 11th test into this long year and it is a matter of just using our resources in the right way, so we’ve gauged the energy and the enthusiasm and just feel that that TJ-Beaudy relationship has been a strong one for a number of years and we’ve put a bit of confidence in it.”

The same can’t be said of Jordie Barrett’s selection at fullback, as Foster said he wouldn’t want to “disrespect” the 24-year-old by saying that he had been picked to play Wales purely on the basis that his brother was playing his 100th test.

Foster outlined that the younger Barrett had been selected more so because of his aerial and defensive attributes, which he feels will come in handy in a test that is expected to be played in soggy conditions under the open Principality Stadium roof.

Rieko Ioane’s selection on the left wing instead of at centre, meanwhile, comes as Foster aims to re-establish Anton Lienert-Brown’s midfield partnership with David Havili after the former missed some Rugby Championship tests with a hamstring injury.

All Blacks team to play Wales in Cardiff on Sunday [NZT]

1. Joe Moody
2. Codie Taylor
3. Nepo Laulala
4. Brodie Retallick
5. Sam Whitelock (c)
6. Ethan Blackadder
7. Dalton Papalii
8. Ardie Savea
9. TJ Perenara
10. Beauden Barrett
11. Rieko Ioane
12. David Havili
13. Anton Lienert-Brown
14. Will Jordan
15. Jordie Barrett

Reserves:

16. Samisoni Taukei’aho
17. Karl Tu’inukuafe
18. Tyrel Lomax
19. Tupou Vaa’i
20. Akira Ioane
21. Brad Weber
22. Richie Mo’unga
23. Sevu Reece

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