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Foster hands Fainga'anuku and Roigard clear objectives to secure finals minutes

By Ned Lester
Cam Roigard takes the field for the All Blacks. Photo by Jean Catuffe/Getty Images

Round five offers fringe players one final opportunity to make their claim for a spot in the matchday 23 before the Rugby World Cup quarter-finals kick off next weekend in Marseille.

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For the All Blacks, there are a number of players who have a chance to lock down bench roles, making for a highly charged matchup with an impressive Uruguay outfit.

While much of the starting XV can be considered set, there is some wriggle room on the All Blacks bench. Two men vying for their spot in the reserves are halfback Cam Roigard and winger Leicester Fainga’anuku.

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Both young players have enjoyed sensational form in 2023’s Super Rugby Pacific, building on impressive showings for the All Blacks XV in 2022.

Roigard has been named to start against Los Teros, with halfback competition Finlay Christie in the gameday reserves.

If the All Blacks are to win with a bonus point and secure their quarter-final birth, the Uruguay Test will be the final audition for the two in the role of Aaron Smith’s backup.

“I want to see him do what he is good at,” head coach Ian Foster said of Roigard. “He brings an edge to the running game, he’s a threat and I want him to stick with that.

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“His left-foot kicking is a real asset for us. We haven’t got a lot of left-footers in our inside backs, so that’s a bonus.

“One thing I do want him to do is to improve the accuracy of his pass. When he’s been coming on, he’s probably been rushing that aspect of his game a little bit. So this is a chance for him to settle in the game and get that right and show that that can be a massive strength for him as well.”

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For Fainga’anuku, the coach revealed it would be an opportunity for the blockbusting runner to show his chops across the backline.

While the 23-year-old usually resides on the left wing and has been named to start there, he has donned the 13 jersey on occasion and may well be shifted into the midfield against Uruguay.

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It’s a crucial revelation as midfield cover is the essential component of the New Zealand bench, given both their starting midfielders can cover the wings.

Team Form

Last 5 Games

4
Wins
2
1
Streak
1
36
Tries Scored
14
193
Points Difference
-79
5/5
First Try
2/5
3/5
First Points
1/5
4/5
Race To 10 Points
2/5

So far, Anton Lienert-Brown has been the front-runner for the impact role, and while Fainga’anuku has also appeared off the bench, Damian McKenzie’s late push to be involved in the matchday 23 could push one of the two out of the quarter-final team.

“Leicester is going to cover 12 and 13,” Foster said. “Obviously, Davey (Havili) would have been in there, he’s out. It’s something that if he does well, it gives us a great option.

“The question before was how settled are we in the 23, well he’s got something to play for.”

Fainga’anuku says he’s been training to be ready for any challenge in any position.

“It’s a position that I’ve constantly been building through Super Rugby and obviously here, now an opportunity at international level.

“For me, it’s been consistently covering that week-in, week-out, make sure I’ve got the toolbox to be able to adjust my game when I do get the opportunity to slip in. For me, I am happy in any spot in the backline.”

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Comments

7 Comments
B
BMac 262 days ago

Fainga’anuku has been playing well on attack and at the breakdown, hope he gets a shot

B
BMac 262 days ago

Fainga’anuku has been playing well on attck and at the breakdown, hope he gets a shot

U
Utiku Old Boy 262 days ago

Fainga'anuku has already played serious minutes at center for the Crusaders (Foster - "if he does well" - sigh). His points of difference against others he is competing with is his hunger for work and his scavenging over the tackle. Additionally, as a big man, he wins collisions, is hard to move off the tackle and competes at the tackle area out wide - where AB defense prefers to push to. Seems you would want to play the cards you have available and his off-shore stint next year should have no impact on his value to this campaign.

A
Another 263 days ago

Surely, Roigard has earned his bench role already? Fainga’anuku could make it still - he is good enough - but he needs to convince that he can cover both midfield positions as well as wing.

j
johnz 263 days ago

It seems a bit late in the day to be schooling Fainga'anuku on AB centre duties, but better late than never I suppose. I've thought for a long time Fainga'anuku would be a far better option to convert to an international centre than Ioane, you get the feeling he could be quite phenomenal. His strength and offloading would cause a lot of problems. NZR should have had the foresight to open their wallets to keep him in the country. But I guess if you haven't broken into Foster's tight knit hierarchy your value in NZ is severely limited.

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