All Blacks' selection lowdown: 'Wholesale changes would be silly'
Typically, the final Bledisloe Cup match of the year has taken place following the completion of the Rugby Championship, but this year’s third test doubles as the All Blacks’ second game of the tournament, and an important one in the grand scheme of wrestling the trophy back off the Springboks, who were the victors in 2019.
It’s not been unusual to see the All Blacks make a swathe of changes for the final Bledisloe match but that’s unlikely to be the case for Sunday, with so much still on the line. There’s also the fact that three senior All Blacks, lock Sam Whitelock, halfback Aaron Smith and first five Richie Mo’unga aren’t unavailable for the match and that the team as a whole has likely suffered from a recent lack of game time.
As such, bar the necessary job of replacing the three players remaining in NZ and awaiting the births of their children, it’s likely the All Blacks will stick with some of the tried and tested this weekend.
In the place of Whitelock, Smith and Mo’unga, expect to see the usual back-ups rolled out – and fizzing at the rare chance to start a test match.
“If you look at the calibre players that are stepping into the players that we have left behind, they’re not bad,” said forward coach John Plumtree on Wednesday. “Patty Tuipulotu’s there. Obviously Brodie [Retallick] steps up into a real leadership role. Scott Barrett’s there as well. In that lock department then we’ve got Tupou Vaa’i who’s been a really impressive player coming through.
“We’ve got some good locks and obviously with Beaudy [Barrett] stepping in to run the ship [in place of Mo’unga at No 10], we’re more than happy with that. And it’s a good opportunity for TJ [Perenara], Brad Weber, obviously Finlay Christie as well.
“There is a couple of guys that will be looking to take those opportunities but really, at the end of the day, that’s an individual thing and we’re really focussed on this team and getting it together and getting organised.”
Beyond those forced changes, however, it’s unlikely the All Blacks will mix and match too much. To do so would be to court disaster, suggested Plumtree.
“We’ve had a couple of weeks break and we’d be silly to make wholesale changes because [of] the fact that some of our players haven’t had a lot of rugby,” he said.”Some have gone back and played a little bit of NPC but if we look at some of the players, we’ve stuck with pretty much the same group through the two Bled games in New Zealand so we’ve got to be conscious of that.
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“Making wholesale changes would be silly. We’ll have to make some changes, yes, but I think settling on combinations that we’ve been using is probably the smartest thing to do right now.
“But on that, we’re away for a long period of time. We’ve got a pretty small squad, really, so we’re going to be relying on this group and everyone’s going to get an opportunity, which is good for the players and it’s going to be good for us.”
“[Lienert-Brown] has trained really well, he’s fine,” Plumtree said.
“George is available now and he’s looking really good at training. He’s looking really sharp and we’re seeing the old George Bridge back. We’ll definitely see him out on the park pretty soon.”
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