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Ian Foster explains bold strategy: 'The right call at the right time'

By Tom Vinicombe
(Photo by Joe Allison/Getty Images)

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For the second time this season, Ian Foster made the bold call on Saturday night to bench captain Sam Cane late in the piece while behind on the scoreboard.

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Although in the first instance, when chasing a big lead against Ireland during the second Test of the July series, Foster simply swapped Cane out for another loose forward in the form of Dalton Papalli, it was midfielder Quinn Tupaea who joined the fray in 69th minute against the Springboks at Ellis Park.

The All Blacks were down to 14 men at the time because just minutes earlier replacement Beauden Barrett had been sent to the sin bin for an off-the-ball tackle on Springboks halfback Jaden Hendrikse.

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While New Zealand had matched up well against South Africa at the set-piece throughout the match, the home side did seem to have the upper hand when it came to scrums and mauls which could have caused all sorts of issues for a seven-man forward pack but, as Foster explained following the match, he felt the Springboks possessed a more potent weapon in their arsenal than their world-class forwards.

“That was a tough decision,” Foster said. “We’d just had Akira [Ioane] come on with fresh legs. We were down and I just didn’t want to expose the backfield to a kick and chase game which I really believed the South Africans would use if we tried to cover it with one less back.

“It was a big call but the reality is we had fresh legs with Akira and we train for those sorts of situations. It was just the right call at the right time, I believe.”

It proved a smart call, with the All Blacks able to field a full complement of backs while Barrett was off the field.

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Although Cane wasn’t on the park for the bulk of the period during which NZ had a player in the bin, he spoke after the match of the control and composure his side exhibited while both down a man and down on the scoreboard, with the Springboks having taken their first lead of the game from the penalty that came as a result of Barrett’s yellow.

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“It has a lot to do with the preparation and the moments we’ve talked about during the week and trained for,” said Cane. “Test match rugby is about executing different moments under pressure and capitalising on those, not over-playing your hand or trying to force something just because you’re behind, trusting each other, trusting what we’re trying to achieve as a team.

“And it’s easier said than done when there’s a mountain of pressure and 60,000 [fans] screaming at you. Really proud of the composure and belief. It’s one thing when you’ve been on a roll to have that belief, it’s another thing when you’re coming off a bit of a rough patch and that’s what I think we’re all pretty proud of, the composure and the belief during that time.”

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The All Blacks were ultimately able to score two tries during the decisive final 10 minutes with David Havili and Scott Barrett both crashing over to save the Test of the New Zealanders, who prevailed 35-23.

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