Five things we need to see from the All Blacks on the Northern tour
Just two months ago, before Bledisloe Two, Ian Foster had a legion of critics.
Then he was confirmed as the man to take the All Blacks to Rugby World Cup 2023 and the All Blacks are now 9-1 for the 2021 season with the Rugby Championship and Bledisloe Cup safely locked away for another year.
Ahead of the All Blacks first Northern tour since 2018, Campbell Burnes highlights five things that the All Blacks need to deliver against the USA, Wales, Italy, Ireland and France.
There are still many sceptics who don’t rate Foster, especially now after they were exposed by the Springboks. However, if the All Blacks can finish 14-1 for the year off the back of the longest tour in 45 years, then those sceptics may have to swallow their pride.
If we take it that the USA and Italy will be defeated with few concerns, and France will be the toughest nut to crack on this tour, then that leaves Wayne Pivac’s Wales, who cannot call on the likes of England-based Dan Biggar and Louis Rees-Zammit, and Ireland, third in the Six Nations, as further stern challenges.
But then they won the Rugby Championship largely without Sam Whitelock, Aaron Smith and Richie Mo’unga. They are further bolstered by Sam Cane and Dane Coles, 150 caps worth of experience right there.
Five wins is certainly achievable.
An assertive lineout
The All Blacks missed Sam Whitelock perhaps even more than Aaron Smith through September.
His calm leadership was contrasted with that of Ardie Savea, who turned down shots at goal and struggled to fully connect with the referees, despite his brilliant all round play.
Whitelock will also stiffen the lineout, which was ceaselessly pressured by the Boks. They challenged just about every ball, whereas the All Blacks are less aggressive around taking on opposition ball. The arrival of Dane Coles will help the accuracy of the throwing into the lineout. This is Asafo Aumua’s Achilles Heel.
You should have four viable lineout options, but the make-up of the All Blacks’ loose trio has affected that aim. Luke Jacobson has taken on the mantle, winning ball at two, but Akira Ioane needs to be a jumper more often… if selected.
Josh Lord to lay down marker for 2023
No one can deny that the All Blacks are building strong depth two years out from France 2023.
They’ve used no less than 40 players thus far in their 10 matches this season. The 41st will be a bolter, Josh Lord. He’s a genuine bolter as no one was talking about him as the next cab off the rank. Most felt Paripari Parkinson was that man.
But Lord has been going well for an on-fire Taranaki, played five games for the Chiefs and turned out for the NZ Under 20s in 2021. Sir John Kirwan admitted he hadn’t heard of him. Watch more footy, JK.
Lord looks physically well equipped to be a future international class lock. Give him the USA and Italy tests. His fellow Taranaki lock Tupou Vaa’i, who stood tall against Argentina in Brisbane will wear the No 19 jersey in the big games.
But Lord is a worthwhile investment.
Akira Ioane to mark up every time
Ioane the Elder has started eight of the 10 tests this season in the No 6 jersey.
By my reckoning, he has played very well in six of those eight. But he was strangely flat against the Springboks, though he was not alone in this regard.
Foster needs to hand Ioane the No 6 jersey for at least three of these tests and lay down the law. This is his chance to cement that berth, if he is no longer seen as a No 8. He could have done it against the Boks. Now he has to do it against the hard men of the north.
Richie Mo’unga to stamp his class
The All Blacks missed many things against the Boks.
Richie Mo’unga’s silky playmaking skills and calm generalship, for one. He looked helpless when thrown on at 65 minutes to try and stem the rising Bok tide on the Gold Coast not long after emerging from a two-week quarantine.
Beauden Barrett played well in patches in Australia, but his lovely offload try assist against the Pumas largely disguised the fact he operated without the requisite authority under pressure in key moments. He’ll raise 100 tests during this tour, and fair play to him.
But we will surely see the best of a refreshed Mo’unga on the northern tour, as we saw the best of the best No 10 in New Zealand during July and August.
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