'I really don't think it's a surprise,' says Foster of All Blacks changes
The All Blacks have made 11 changes to their run-on line-up for this weekend’s rematch with the Pumas, including resting a handful of key players who would surely be pencilled in as ‘first-choice’ starters.
Nepo Laulala, Brodie Retallick, Scott Barrett, Akira Ioane, Dalton Papalii and Beauden Barrett are all absent from this Saturday’s starting lineup, with the Barrett brothers shifted to the reserves and the remainder left out of the squad entirely.
That, says All Blacks head coach Ian Foster, is the sensible thing to do.
“I really don’t think it’s a surprise,” Foster commented following the team announcement. “I think we’ve flagged five tests in a row is a big ask for all the teams and I’m pretty sure you’ll see each team making changes here and there.
“Basically, with a six-day turnaround and with five tests in a row, we believe it’s really important that we use the energy of the group. We have a group that’s been training hard, last week, this week, to play the same opposition.
“Everyone’s been preparing at the same time and some of these changes are for people that actually played significant minutes last week anyway, against Argentina … There’s not as many changes, I think, on the park as perhaps what it looks like.”
While there are a number of less experienced players that have been brought into the fold, there are others with ample caps under their belt who had limited or no minutes last week due to injury.
Ardie Savea and Codie Taylor have returned to the 23, having missed last week’s game after suffering head knocks against the Wallabies. Joe Moody made his first appearance of the year last week and has been promoted to the starting line-up while Ofa Tuungafasi is also set for his first game of the season. Patrick Tuipulotu, meanwhile, hasn’t played since July.
It’s the relative newbies that will perhaps capture the most interest, however.
Samisoni Taukei’aho will make his first start for the team after being called into the squad during the July tests and going from strength to strength. Also in the forwards are Tyrel Lomax and Hoskins Sotutu, making their second starts of the season, and Tupou Vaa’i, making his first.
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Many expected Sotutu to take hold of the number 8 jersey this year but that hasn’t quite eventuated. Still, Saturday’s rematch with Argentina presents the young loose forward with the opportunity to take some of the promise he’s shown on the training pitch onto the playing field.
“Every player gets their own individual plan about the things we want them to work on,” said Foster. “He’s a highly-skilled player. We’ve talked to him about work-rate needed and physicality of test matches but the reason he’s in there is he’s training well for us, he’s contributing well off the park and he’s got a huge desire to go out and start and play. Clearly, we’re looking forward to seeing how he goes.”
Quinn Tupaea will make his second test start at No 12 while Braydon Ennor’s addition to the reserves also marks a welcome return, with the 24-year-old navigating numerous injury set-backs over the past two seasons to finally be named to play just his second test – and his first since his debut in 2019.
“We’d like him to [hit the ground running] but he’s had a year where he hasn’t had a lot of rugby,” Foster acknowledged. “I think we said right at the outset that we clearly were keen on him staying behind and playing some games for Canterbury before he came over to get some runs on the board but that wasn’t to be.
“The last couple of weeks, he’s been training fully involved and nailing the roles of centre and wing and there’s an opportunity.”
Halfback Finlay Christie also joins the bench for what looms as his fourth injection off the reserves.
Ongoing injuries have prevented two players from earning minutes, with prop Ethan de Groot and regular centre Anton Lienert-Brown both not quite back to full fitness.
“[It’s] fair to say [Lienert-Brown] would have played if we had deemed he was right but it’s just a little niggle so didn’t want to do that,” said Foster.
“It’s a little bit the same with Ethan de Groot. They’re really progressing well, training fully, but just not quite right for selection.”
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Ioane, who has featured in all seven of the All Blacks’ matches this year, was due a rest but the ongoing injury to Lienert-Brown means the high-flying utility back has another chance to showcase his wide range of skills in the midfield.
“[We] probably would have preferred to give him a bit of a break but with Anton’s niggle going on another week, we just felt that he’s on top of his game,” Foster said. “He’s fit and keen and so it’s a little bit of a [heavy] workload for him but again, he really is on top of his game at the moment and thriving at wing or centre but really impressed with him coming in last week late for Anton and so that was a change in our plan but somethings we can’t afford.”
Saturday’s match kicks off at 8:05pm AEST from Suncorp Stadium in Brisbane.
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