All Blacks' rocky season a 'blessing in disguise' for young players
It took the All Blacks eight tests before they could finally string two consecutive wins together in 2022. The team with an all-time winning record just shy of 80 per cent has this year struggled to secure as many wins as they have losses.
Head coach Ian Foster refers to the disappointing record as a symptom of a “rebuilding” team and as a key figure in that rebuild, Papali’i’s comments are a key insight into the All Blacks’ future for kiwi fans.
“I think, we’ve been so used to an All Black culture and team where we just win, win and we just keep doing it,” Papali’i said.
“We’ve had our struggles this year and I think it’s sort of been, well personally for me, a blessing in disguise because it’s something new for a lot of new All Blacks, a lot of young guys coming in.
“Also, for all of New Zealand, we’re not used to it so I think it’s sort of us finding our feet again with a lot of new blood coming in and some boys getting more opportunities, that sort of were on the fringes.
“So it’s more of a wake-up call, this is Test footy, this is the best of the best and you can’t leave any stone unturned training-wise and you know you’ve got to nail your one or two percenters off field leading into games and that’s where it all matters, so I think it’s been a good learning curve for us coming into this week.”
Papali’i and the young All Blacks have had limited opportunities in this year’s campaign, being named for the upcoming Bledisloe Test is a timely call-up with the Rugby Championship on the line at the All Blacks’ home fortress of Eden Park.
If the All Blacks could come out of their final home test of the year with a statement win, it would be a huge stepping stone for the team as they then look north to their end-of-year tour. Papali’i acknowledged the added importance of the occasion.
“I think it does but also in saying that, Test match footy, like I said before, it’s the best of the best and you’re going to get every team playing quality footy for 80-plus minutes so we’ve just got to hold ourselves accountable.
“Coming into this game we know how important it is just to close this chapter but it’s not really closing a chapter, it’s more of us growing as a team, we’ve had a pretty bumpy season so far but like I said, every game is a big game for us.”
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