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Ian Foster reveals the toughest positional groups to pick for All Blacks

By Sam Smith
(Photo By Ramsey Cardy/Sportsfile via Getty Images)

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All Blacks head coach Ian Foster has admitted he will be forced to make some big selection calls when picking his next squad for the three-test series against Ireland in July.

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Speaking on The Breakdown, Foster shed some light on how he is going to select his upcoming All Blacks squad, revealing the toughest areas of selection will come in the midfield, loose forwards and front row.

“I think we’ve got some big decisions to make in the midfield, we’ve probably got some big decisions to make in the loose forwards,” Foster told The Breakdown.

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What the All Blacks squad could look like halfway through Super Rugby Pacific | Aotearoa Rugby Pod
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What the All Blacks squad could look like halfway through Super Rugby Pacific | Aotearoa Rugby Pod

“I’d also put the front row in that category as well. We were forced to take eight props with us last year, and so we won’t be taking eight props this year and so there will be some tough decisions.”

Foster made particular note of the logjam in the national loose forward pecking order, citing the form and ability of the test rugby rookies who have featured in his previous squads from the past two years as aspects that have added a layer of “complexity” to his decision-making as a selector.

“Clearly, the last two years, we’ve had a lot of opportunities for a number of new players to come in and put their hand up, and many of them have actually played really, really well,” Foster said.

“You look at some of our loose forwards and some of the versatility we’ve got – the Ethan Blackadders, Akira [Ioane] who’s coming back, the rise of Dalton [Papalii] – has all added a little bit of complexity, but that’s exciting for us.”

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Foster added that he is anticipating on naming a 36-man squad for the Ireland series, the same-sized squad that was named for last year’s mid-year tests against Tonga and Fiji.

That squad grew over the course of the year, though, as border restrictions and extensive travel forced Foster to balloon his touring squad up to 40 players by the end of last November’s European tour.

As such, not all of those who featured for the All Blacks last year will be included in Foster’s next squad, which he said may shrink below his initial 36-man threshold should injuries mount in Super Rugby Pacific.

“36 [players] for the first squad, that’s sort of a standard Steinlager Series-sized squad, but that can change,” Foster told The Breakdown.

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“Maybe it won’t go up, but it could change slightly down based on injuries and who we have left standing after Super Rugby.”

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Foster also hinted that he will look to use this test campaign as a chance to develop some continuity in his match day selections as he enters the second half of the current World Cup cycle.

“If you look at a normal World Cup cycle, you normally spend two years, I guess, really cementing your culture, your team, your plan, then you spend your third year really building your depth and honing it down,” he said.

“Your fourth year, you just go and do it at a World Cup. We’ve probably had to flip that over a little bit.

“The first two years, with the circumstances we got dealt with, we had to leave the shores with big squads, so we’ve really had a depth strategy the last two years, and this year we’ve got to hone that right down.

“In many ways, whilst picking the 34, 36-man squad, it’s going to be tough, and it always is, but a lot of our energy right now is on the combinations within that, within the [starting] 15 down to the [match day] 23.

“This year, I think you’ll see us focus more cementing combinations and having a bit more continuity in how we select the group.”

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