'If you play under fear then you restrict your options'
Ian Foster has suggested that although the All Blacks selectors have made no changes to the starting XV from the side that suffered a historic defeat to Argentina last weekend, that doesn’t mean there’s no accountability.
Having established a six-point advantage over Los Pumas shortly into the second half of Saturday’s clash, the expectation was that New Zealand would at the very least hold their lead as time wore on, if not build upon what they’d already created. Instead, Argentina were the ones to finish the stronger side, scoring 13 unanswered points to record their first-ever win over the All Blacks in NZ, claiming a 25-18 victory.
As such, there would have been a few shocked faces on Thursday when the All Blacks unveiled their only slightly tweaked squad from the one that fell to Argentina in Christchurch, with Dane Coles, Brodie Retallick, Dalton Papali’i and Beauden Barrett joining the bench in favour of Codie Taylor, Tupou Vaa’i, Akira Ioane and Stephen Perofeta.
Speaking to media following the team announcement, Foster explained that while the team hadn’t finished strongly at Orangetheory Stadium, they had set themselves up for a good victory earlier in the match.
“A lot of [the reason why the starting XV remains unchanged is] based on the performance early in the game,” he said. “I thought we kept them in the game with probably some inaccuracies on the offside line, which was frustrating, and they went 3, 6, 9, 12 and stayed in the hunt.
“But overall, I thought scrum was strong, the lineout functioned really, really well, our carries were going ok, we were seeing the kicking space, we were doing a lot of good stuff. We’re backing that and making sure we actually grow and get a few more lessons from that as well.”
Prior to Saturday, the All Blacks had only ever once suffered defeat at the hands of the Argentinians – in Foster’s first game against the South Americans as top dog in 2020. On that occasion, the Pumas suffocated their opponents on attack and claimed a well-deserved 25-15 win.
Despite Foster’s men recording another unwanted piece of history in Christchurch, the head coach suggested that the team would find themselves in even deeper of a rut if the selectors were chopping and changing based only on results.
“For those that want blood, I guess we haven’t given it, have we?” he said. “The message is that we’re being pretty ruthless and hard on ourselves behind the scenes. We’re hurting with where the team’s at but if we dwell too much on that, if you play under fear then you restrict your options, you restrict your thinking and what actually happens if you don’t get the game going the way you want to do it.
“Part of what we’re doing now is [asking ourselves], ‘Ok, what do we believe in?’ And we actually believe in some things that we’re working on now and we believe that there’s enough evidence that there were some things going really good but it didn’t translate to the result that we wanted and we think the best way to build the confidence in those key pressure moments is to put the guys out there who have just been through it, have felt it, and now we’ve talked about some different solutions so we’re backing that. But there’s pressure on. There’s always pressure on individuals when they run out in a black jersey and we’re expecting a response in that particular area.”
With new coaches and new processes in place, Foster also implied that making too many personnel changes would hinder not enhance the side’s performance, but that there was still adequate pressure on individuals to perform, even if their spots in the starting line-up weren’t immediately at threat.
“I think the pressure comes from performance – and it always does,” he said. “Yes, I guess as a group we are showing a lot of faith in this XV and we said earlier that we need to grow combinations. And we’ve felt that the best way to make changes is on top of a platform that we can then grow our game further – and clearly we haven’t quite got that platform right yet. Our hunch is to go with a group that is working hard at the moment, that is slowly building combinations, and I think there’s enough evidence that we’re getting there in many parts of our game.
“But it’s actually growing that confidence when we get into the tail end of the game … It’s an area that I think great All Blacks teams have always been good in that last 15 minutes of backing themselves and doing the right thing. We got it right in South Africa and we got it wrong in Christchurch.”
The All Blacks currently sit on a 2-4 record for 2022. Saturday’s match-up in Hamilton presents the team with an opportunity to end a run of three losses at home on the trot after also dropping their final two July-series matches against Ireland.
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