All Blacks rookie Josh Lord to make debut from bench against USA
The vastly inexperienced 20-year-old lock has been named in the reserves by All Blacks head coach Ian Foster for the opening match of New Zealand’s end-of-year tour at FedEx Field on Sunday [NZ time].
With just five Super Rugby caps to his name, Lord was plucked from obscurity to tour with the All Blacks last month as he replaced Scott Barrett and Patrick Tuipulotu, both of whom have returned to New Zealand, in the squad.
However, less than a week after linking up with the team in the American capital, Lord will have the chance to make his test debut against the Eagles.
“Josh Lord is a young man who’s been really enthusiastic since he came in. He’s bringing a lot of energy and learning a lot and we’re looking forward to seeing him go,” Foster said via a statement.
The match also presents a chance for the All Blacks to reintroduce a raft of veteran players who missed most, if not all, of the Rugby Championship campaign.
Likewise, the match will also see the return of Sam Cane, who has been relieved of captaincy duties on this tour so he can focus on working his way back into form following a six-month injury lay-off due to a pectoral injury.
With only one match under his belt since March – a solitary appearance for King Country in the Heartland Championship a fortnight ago – Cane has been named on the bench for the USA test alongside experienced hooker Dane Coles.
Coles is another who hasn’t played for the All Blacks for some time, having last played international rugby against Fiji in Hamilton three months ago.
Since then, he has been plagued by a calf injury, which left him recuperating in New Zealand for the entirety of the Rugby Championship.
— RugbyPass (@RugbyPass) October 21, 2021
Similarly to Cane, Coles only has one first-class match to his name since coming back from injury, a one-off outing for Wellington in the NPC two weeks ago, meaning Foster has opted to ease him back into action via the bench as well.
The tier two status of the American side has also enabled Foster to select a starting team comprised of many players who have been starved of game time in recent weeks.
That spells good news for the likes of prop Ethan de Groot (the only member of the All Blacks squad not to feature in the Rugby Championship) and Angus Ta’avao, No 8 Hoskins Sotutu, halfback Finlay Christie and centre Braydon Ennor, all of whom have been named to start.
By being named in the starting lineup, De Groot, Christie and Ennor will all make their first starts at test level, and Foster is excited to watch how they perform.
“Ethan has been raring to go in recent weeks. We’re really excited for him, he’s been training well and he’s a quality player with a big future,” he said.
“Finlay has made the most of his opportunities and he just keeps growing his game and getting better and better and we’re delighted at how he’s going.
“Braydon has had a year disrupted by injury but he’s back. He’s running fast and we’re again looking forward to seeing how he goes.”
Mercurial playmaker Richie Mo’unga will also start at No 10 for the first time since the second Bledisloe Cup win in August.
By that match, the 27-year-old had established himself as the first-choice All Blacks first-five, but his decision to stay in New Zealand and attend the birth of his second child afforded Beauden Barrett a lengthy run in the starting lineup during the Rugby Championship.
The two-time World Rugby Player of the Year didn’t need a second invitation to impress, and Mo’unga’s clear-cut lead in the national pecking order has been muddied somewhat as Foster has a real selection headache over who is preferred candidate is.
Two 21-year-olds locking the All Blacks scrum? It might not be the combo NZ rush to for their big matches, but it could be utilised against the Eagles this weekend. #USAvNZL #AllBlackshttps://t.co/GbLfKGiXFF
— RugbyPass (@RugbyPass) October 21, 2021
The race for the No 10 jersey is well and truly on, and Mo’unga will have a long-awaited chance to once again prove his credentials after Barrett, who has been named on the bench, did plenty to enhance his selection prospects.
Elsewhere, inexperienced youngsters such as Vaa’i, hooker Asafo Aumua, loose forwards Luke Jacobson and Dalton Papalii, Quinn Tupaea and Will Jordan will all start in a continuation of their test rugby development.
Damian McKenzie, meanwhile, will start from fullback after Jordie Barrett’s prolonged spell in the No 15 jersey, while George Bridge has been handed a reprieve on the left wing after his horror night against the Springboks in Townsville a month ago.
Kick-off for the clash against the USA Eagles is scheduled for 8:30 am Sunday [NZT].
All Blacks team to face USA Eagles
1. Ethan de Groot
2. Asafo Aumua
3. Angus Ta’avao
4. Sam Whitelock (c)
5. Tupou Vaa’i
6. Luke Jacobson
7. Dalton Papalii
8. Hoskins Sotutu
9. Finlay Christie
10. Richie Mo’unga
11. George Bridge
12. Quinn Tupaea
13. Braydon Ennor
14. Will Jordan
15. Damian McKenzie
16. Dane Coles
17. George Bower
18. Tyrel Lomax
19. Josh Lord*
20. Sam Cane
21. TJ Perenara
22. Beauden Barrett
23. Anton Lienert-Brown
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