Ian Foster explains the minimal changes to the All Blacks set-up
While there were never any expectations that Ian Foster would make wholesale changes to the All Blacks for this weekend’s rematch with Australia, the minimal amendments to the matchday squad for the second Bledisloe Cup clash may have raised a few eyebrows.
The All Blacks have just made one personnel change to the starting lineup for the opening game of the Rugby Championship, bringing in Will Jordan for the crook Anton Lienert-Brown.
Lienert-Brown’s knee injury, suffered in the latter stages of last weekend’s 33-25 win, see Rieko Ioane shift from the left wing to centre, Sevu Reece swap from the right wing to the left, and Jordan take Reece’s spot in the No 14 jersey.
Had Lienert-Brown been fit, however, it’s likely we wouldn’t have seen any changes to the starting lineup at all.
“It’s a slight medial strain,” Foster explained following the team announcement. “Happened near the end of the game. It didn’t seem that bad but Sunday, Monday, it really showed itself. Pretty minor.
“I’m delighted with Rieko at the moment. It forced our hand with the change. It’s fair to say we were pretty happy to put Anton out there again and to keep that combination going after last week but these things happen. But Rieko’s in a great spot.”
Foster also highlighted Jordan’s competent performance in the black jersey this year, with the 23-year-old scoring tries in all three matches of the July series, including five against Tonga.
“He’s trained well, he had a very good July series and he was hampered with injuries last year so he didn’t really get a lot of opportunity last year but had a strong season so far,” Foster said. “This is a big test but he’s ready. He’s confident and we really just want him to run fast, tackle well.”
As evident with the team that will run out onto Eden Park on Saturday, consistency is the name of the game for Foster at this relatively early stage of the season.
“We need growth and I think the best way to get growth at this stage of the season is to keep developing the combinations,” said Foster. “There was a lot of lessons got from last week and whilst there’s a lot been said about the things that didn’t go well, there were a lot of things that did go well and we’ve got to make sure we enhance those opportunities again.
“We’ve gone with continuity of performance [to] put pressure on this group to respond and give us more of a complete performance by having gone through and done some good things, but also we’ve learnt a bit through it. [I’m] a bit of a believer in that and I think it’s the right thing for this team right now.”
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There are, however, a few changes to the reserves.
Samisoni Taukei’aho, who wasn’t named in the initial All Blacks squad for the July tests but joined late in the piece as an injury replacement, will wear the No 16 jersey this week.
Taukei’aho was brought in at the eleventh hour for last weekend’s match after the more experienced Dane Coles was a late scratching and Foster confirmed on Thursday that the 34-year-old old won’t be back on deck anytime soon.
“He’s again [got a] calf strain,” said Foster, alluding to the many troubles Coles had had to contend with in the past. “It’s actually a different calf strain than he’s had before so we’re probably looking at a four to six week period for that as well.”
TJ Perenara will also take the field for the first time this year, having spent the first half of the season in Japan, while Scott Barrett has been reinstated onto the bench after being a late scratching on game day last weekend, with his spot being filled by Patrick Tuipulotu.
“We’ve brought Scooter back off the bench. He was a late withdrawal so I guess there was a bit of a one game each for him and Patty but he’ll bring a lot of experience too in that role,” Foster said.
“But we need to go forward. We’re going to get a more committed Australian team and we need to make sure we’re matching fire with fire.”
Foster expects the Wallabies to bring even greater aggression this weekend but the All Blacks coach is confident his charges have what it takes to score a second win on the trot and secure the Bledisloe Cup for another season – as well as getting the Rugby Championship campaign off to a solid start. However much pressure there might be on the All Blacks, the Wallabies will also be feeling the burn, said Foster.
“Clearly I think they’re going to go out and try be more aggressive. That seems to be the word that we’re hearing. They’ve said that they want to take us on a bit more so that’s the response we’d expect out of them and pretty intrigued that they’re trying to pile pressure on us.
“But it’s a Bledisloe Cup series, they’re one-nil down, I’m pretty sure there’s a bit of pressure on them too. We want to win it.”
Saturday’s match kicks off at 7:05pm NZT from Eden Park in Auckland.
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