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Ian Foster explains how he picked his All Black midfielders and why he called up Quinn Tupaea

By Ben Smith

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Ian Foster has highlighted the midfield as the toughest area to pick of his 2021 All Blacks squad, as he tries to find the right combination to anchor down the key positions.

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After Jack Goodhue was ruled out for the season due to an ACL injury and Ngani Laumape signed with French club Stade Francais, the available options were getting thin.

Adding salt to the wound was surgery for the most experienced midfielder Anton Lienert-Brown, which will see him miss several weeks as he recovers.

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Foster’s first-choice duo of Goodhue and Lienert-Brown from last year will not be seen together for some time, opening the door for some new combinations to be tried.

“I think we flagged early that we probably were putting a microscope over our midfield. It was probably number one,” Foster told media at the All Blacks squad announcement.

“Jack’s injury on top of that and Ngani leaving going overseas has created a few opportunities in that space, and so that’s probably where we spent the most time.”

Foster and his staff selected Braydon Ennor, Rieko Ioane, David Havili, Lienert-Brown and uncapped Chiefs youngster Quinn Tupaea as the five midfielders heading into July’s tests against Fiji and Tonga.

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Crusaders second-five Havili was one player Foster singled out as offering something different to the types of No 12s the All Blacks have used in the past, giving the team potentially a new style.

“We are pretty excited, we’ve got a couple of different styles and different options there,” Foster said

“Particularly at 12, is an area where we haven’t had a lot of depth, so I think David Havili’s progress this year has been great. He’s a different style 12 than perhaps what we’ve had before.

The only other out-and-out second-five in the squad is Tupaea, who improved this year in Super Rugby after making the switch one position inside after originally being used at centre by the Chiefs.

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Foster said his transition to 12 has been “positive”, with his confidence growing as a result.

“We’ve also been really impressed by Quinn Tupaea, a young man who loves playing 12, runs hard, tackles well and will be a great learning experience for him.

“He played centre last year and probably struggled a little bit defensively in that role, but centre is not an easy one to learn when you are a young person. I think the move into 12 with Anton playing 13 was a positive one for him.

“We saw him get his hands on the ball a lot and grow his confidence defensively, so it’s an exciting time, he got named in the Maori All Blacks on Friday and named in the All Blacks on Monday. Not a bad few days.”

Foster admitted that the injury curse had played a part in Tupaea’s selection, with news of Lienert-Brown’s injury opening the door for his Chiefs teammate to get the call-up.

“That’s been part of it. Clayton [McMillan, Chiefs interim head coach], with the Maori All Blacks, we’ve been talking for a number of weeks about how we connect the teams because they’ve had to name their team first.

“We decided to do it this way, and then when Anton’s injury came in we made a decision to put Quinn in there, so he will be leaving that environment and coming to join ours.”

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Ian Foster explains how he picked his All Black midfielders and why he called up Quinn Tupaea

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