Ian Foster backs impact players: 'There's no blame at all on the bench'
Despite leading their rematch with the Springboks 20-11 nearing halftime, the All Blacks fell away in the second stanza, conceding 14 unanswered points, and ultimately suffered a 31-29 defeat.
South Africa struggled in the second quarter of the match but a triple substitution in the 38th minute saw front-rowers Steven Kitshoff, Malcolm Marx and Vincent Koch join the fray and add some real impetus at scrum-time.
The likes of Elton Jantjies and Frans Steyn also helped turn the tide of the game in the second half, with Steyn’s accurate long punts causing more than a few issues for the men in black and Jantjies nailing a long-range drop goal late in the match to put New Zealand under immense pressure with time almost up on the clock.
Those five substitutions were ultimately pivotal in the final result and Springboks coach Jacques Nienaber will be content with the knowledge that his side boasts can finish strongly and win the tight battles when they matter most.
For All Blacks coach Ian Foster, the outcome wasn’t quite so positive.
After last weekend’s narrow victory, Foster switched up his bench for the rematch. Changes included swapping TJ Perenara from the starting lineup to the reserves and elevating Brad Weber into the No 9 jersey, bringing in Asafo Aumau and George Bower as substitute front-rowers and reintroducing Richie Mo’unga to the team after a long absence.
While the Springboks improved following the introduction of their bench, the All Blacks faded.
The NZ reserve front-rowers brought useful energy in the loose but the set-piece suffered. Although the lineout was never operating smoothly, substituting Codie Taylor, Scott Barrett and Luke Jacobson off the park in the second half turned it into a huge weakness, with the All Blacks losing multiple lineouts on both attack and defence.
The scrum, meanwhile, was also folding backwards and it was only through the good work of captain Ardie Savea that the All Blacks weren’t pinged on both offensive and defensive feeds.
The issues were also evident in the backline, with TJ Perenara’s delivery a marked step down from the quickfire passes of Weber while Mo’unga looked very much short of match fitness and struggled to make any impact with ball in hand.
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The one shining light for the All Blacks was Ethan Blackadder, who’s never-say-die attitude and infinitely fueled engine a handy addition to the side – but it’s curious why it was Jacobson who left the field instead of Akira Ioane, who has struggled to assert himself against the Springboks after being one the All Blacks’ best throughout the season.
Speaking after the match, Foster suggest that the All Blacks did get the impact they wanted from the reserves bench, even if it wasn’t the impact many fans might have been hoping for.
“It was a different sort of impact, different situation they came in,” he said. “I thought we finished the first half in quite a strong position and I think the problem-solving on the park was really, really good.
“The third quarter, we just muddled around a little bit. They tried to come at us through their set-piece and I thought we hung pretty tough in that space but in that last quarter, we perhaps struggled to play with the ball in their half and that was the area that I thought we got a little bit frustrated and didn’t have quite the direction that we needed to, so we’ll go and have a look at that.
“But there’s no blame at all on the bench. It’s a tough old game and the South Africans threw everything at us and probably played their best game in many ways and turned it into one of those traditional games we’ve had over the last three or four years and a lot of them seem to go down to the last few minutes.”
The third quarter of the match was when Foster had earlier identified as the changing of the tide.
“To lose any game at the end when you’ve got control of it is frustrating but [it was a] massive arm wrestle really,” he said.
“I thought the South Africans played superbly. They came with a lot of attitude, they carried hard, they moved us around and really challenged us in many ways, particularly in that third quarter. I thought they had a really strong third quarter and got us a bit flustered but I just like the way we hung in there and we found a way.
“We did some nice things, we took some great opportunities early in the game, scored some nice tries and got ourselves into a winning position but then lacked a little bit of discipline in that last two minutes.”
With the likes of Joe Moody, Ofa Tuungafasi and Mo’unga still short of minutes, and important figures such as Sam Whitelock, Sam Cane and Aaron Smith set to return to action in the coming months, the All Blacks will undoubtedly improve as a unit but for the men in the reserves, they may find their opportunities limited moving forward, such is the depth of the squad.
The selectors will likely employ every player in the team over the coming five matches to round out the year, but whether someone lines up against Italy or France, the USA or Ireland, could come down to how their ledger looked over the past five games – and last night’s loss to the Springboks will certainly play a role in some pla
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