Ian Foster on why the All Blacks haven't 'compromised' with their selection
The All Blacks have made just four personnel changes to their starting line-up for Saturday’s rematch with the Springboks, with head coach Ian Foster suggesting that the new additions should help freshen up the side without eroding any of the lessons from the week prior.
The addition of Luke Jacobson in place of Ethan Blackadder is the sole change to the forward pack – although it’s the same set of players that were originally named for last weekend’s match before Jacobson was a late scratching.
In the backs, Brad Weber takes over from TJ Perenara at halfback, Anton Lienert-Brown returns from injury in the midfield, shifting Rieko Ioane to the left wing and George Bridge out of the 23, while Sevu Reece takes over from Will Jordan on the right.
“There’s a bit of a balance [to the changes] but we haven’t wanted to compromise on the result that we want,” Foster said after revealing his squad for the 101st match between the two nations. “We were delighted with the result last week. We weren’t as delighted with the performance. And you get that, going through a season.
“We clearly want to take some learnings from our South African game last week and apply them and in order to get the lessons, putting a large part of the group out again is going to be important but we’re also acknowledging that five tests in a row has really given us a chance to freshen up a few areas and maybe look at the impact of our bench, what we really wanted in that last 30, and what that meant on the selection of the starting XV.
“There’s been a little bit gone into [the selection] to try to balance out the workload but also the occasion. Let’s not move past the fact that this is a big opportunity. We didn’t play South Africa last year. They’ve been number one in the world and we want to learn as much as we can about how to play against them.”
In some ways, the changes are fairly predictable, given the areas where the All Blacks struggled last weekend and after factoring in the men returning from injury and illness.
“In the pack, we’ve basically resorted to the loose forward trio that we named last week,” Foster said. “Obviously Luke had to pull out so it’s good to have him back. In the backs, Brad’s going well, really happy with Brad and TJ but it’s just part of growing Brad, I think, give him another chance to play against South Africa and use TJ’s experience off the bench.
“In the back three, it’s been great to be able to bring Anton back from his hamstring [injury] so restoring him to centre and Sevu and Rieko go on the wing, [which] clearly was an area we felt we needed to improve from last week and they’ve got a real focus on that.
“I think Sevu’s played really well for us. Rieko’s gone well too and I think our back three perhaps weren’t at the level that we needed them to be last week. Clearly a message has been sent.”
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Bridge, in particular, had a less than savoury performance under the high ball on the left flank and while Ioane has shouldered a massive load throughout the season, having featured in every test for the All Blacks, his form has made him too hot to leave out.
Jacobson’s return should also help shore up the breakdown, with the clean-out not where it needed to be from both the backs and the forwards, despite Blackadder’s impressive physical showing against the Springboks.
In fact, Blackadder was so good that Foster and his fellow selectors had to think very carefully about whether they wanted to keep the young loose forward in the starting line-up instead of relegating him to the bench.
“He’s been great,” Foster said. “But he’s also a very physical rugby player and that’s two big games in a row that he’s played from a physical side.
“I think one of the talking points or one of the strategies is when you look at our bench, we’ve brought George Bower in, we’ve got Asafo [Aumua] coming in, Ofa [Tuungafasi], I think, will be better after a couple of hit-outs after a big long break.
“I thought Patty [Tuipulotu] was good off the bench and with Ethan now, I think we’ve got a forward bench [selected] with a plan to go into that last part of the game, [at the end of] five tests in a row and bring plenty of energy and enthusiasm so there’s a little bit of a strategy around that and you could probably put TJ and Damian [McKenzie] in that same mix.”
Saturday’s match – the final game of this year’s Rugby Championship – kicks off at 8:05pm AEST.
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