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All Blacks face 'juggling act' ahead of final fixtures of the season

By Tom Vinicombe
(Photo Andrew Cornaga / www.photosport.nz)

The All Blacks have a juggling act on their hands with just two matches remaining on their end-of-year tour and only seven games to play between now and their opening Rugby World Cup fixture against France.

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Complicating factors is the fact that there’s an eight-day turnaround between their previous game against Wales and their upcoming fixture with Scotland, but just six days between that clash and their final game of the tour at Twickenham.

There are both selection issues and conditioning hurdles to juggle. While, for example, Jordie Barrett looks to be the man to don the No 12 jersey moving forward, ‘incumbent’ David Havili is yet to have a start on the tour – which means either inhibiting Barrett’s development in the role or Havili missing out on playing against Scotland or England (or potentially both).

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“It’s a juggling act,” coach Ian Foster said the day after the All Blacks’ big 55-23 win over Wales. “It’s just a juggling act.

“At what stage do you put all your eggs in one basket and at which stage do you build depth? I guess that’s the art of selection but quite frankly, be it Jordie or be it Davey or be it maybe even Anton Lienert-Brown at 12, at the end of the day it’s quality players and we expect them to do a job.

“So whilst it’s not about chopping and changing all the time, it is about building and I think we’ve done a lot of work on combinations this year and a few other options up our sleeve is going to be good for us.”

An extra day’s rest ahead of the Scotland match might be beneficial for conditioning, but it also upsets the usual work week and then puts the side under pressure ahead of what may be their toughest game of the tour in London.

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“It’s not tricky, it’s just different,” said Foster of the first hurdle. “We’re actually deliberately giving ourselves a bit of breathing space today and tomorrow.

“We travel [on Sunday], we go up to Edinburgh and have the day off. Hence we’re not talking too much about what next week looks like until probably tomorrow night. But clearly it’s a chance at this time of year, we’ve got to make sure we use it well because the following week’s a six-day turnaround so we’ve just got to balance it out.

“One thing you’ve got to be careful on eight-day turnarounds is playing the game too early,” he added. “Hence my reluctance to talk a little bit about what the key focuses are for the week because I think it’s good to give the team breathing space for the next 48 hours and then get over and roll our sleeves up and get back to work on Tuesday and treat it like a normal week from then on.”

While Foster won’t want to be going into the England game without fresh bodies, he also won’t want to throw some of the current top performers off their stride.

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Regardless, a handful of changes will be expected this weekend. The likes of Stephen Perofeta, Asafo Aumua, Finlay Christie, Mark Telea and Billy Harmon are unlikely to feature against England but would Foster be willing to travel with such an extended squad if he also weren’t willing to give the bulk of his players at least some minutes on the park?

Sunday’s fixture with Scotland is set to kick off at 2:15pm GMT from Edinburgh.

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