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Jason Ryan provides update on All Blacks loose forward stocks

By Tom Vinicombe
Ardie Savea, Sam Cane and Shannon Frizell. (Photo by Hannah Peters/Getty Images)

The All Blacks will have at least one of their unavailable loose forwards from their first Bledisloe Cup match of the season back on deck for this weekend’s rematch at Eden Park.

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Shannon Frizell and Ardie Savea were both absent from the last-minute victory in Melbourne, with Frizell on the mend from a rib injury suffered against Argentina earlier in the month and Savea on parental leave.

Regular second-rower Scott Barrett shifted into the blindside flanker role for the victory while Hoskins Sotutu was given his first run of the season at the back of the scrum.

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While Frizell’s availability won’t be confirmed until later in the week, All Blacks forward coach Jason Ryan noted that Savea returned to training on Monday and is very much gearing up to take on the Wallabies in Auckland.

“Shannon’s obviously had that niggly rib which we knew about so he’s just got to get through Thursday and see how that pans out,” Ryan explained.

“Ardie’s come in fresh and selectable … He’s got a lot of mana in our group. He’s fresh here but he’s just had another baby so I’m sure there’s been a couple of sleepless nights.

“He’s great for us, he’s a real energy giver. We get a lot of energy off him in our group. Having that week off will definitely freshen him up and he’ll be sharp and ready to go.”

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While Barrett was industrious on Thursday night and Sotutu also had his moments to shine, it’s fair to say that the Wallabies backrow of Rob Leota, Pete Samu and Rob Valetini probably got the better of their New Zealand counterparts.

Australia’s strength at the breakdown didn’t necessarily catch Ryan and the All Blacks by surprise, but that didn’t make it any easier to counter.

“I thought Valetini was huge for them,” he said. “He’s played great Super Rugby as well and Pete Samu as well [impressed] as a ball-carrier.

“They’ve got athletes that can give you really good variation, their contact work and their leg drive in their carries, good variation around their lineout. Not really a surprise but definitely the breakdown becomes a big area and getting quick ball [is tough].”

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Complicating matters last Thursday was that the sole member of the loose forwards trio to retain his spot from the previous win over the Pumas, captain Sam Cane, managed just 24 minutes before having to leave the field for a head injury assessment, bringing Dalton Papali’i into the mix.

“I think [the All Blacks backrowers] had their moments – as the whole pack did,” Ryan said of their performance. “There was times where we had really good intensity in that area and times we could have been better.

“Like any combination, it takes a bit of time and [when] you get a bit of changes, you’ve got to find your rhythm early, especially in Test matches.”

While Cane passed his late-night HIA test following the win over the Wallabies, the All Blacks will unsurprisingly play it safe with their captain which means that he, like Frizell, won’t have his availability confirmed for Saturday’s match until later in the week.

“It’s World Rugby protocol and it’s a protocol for the All Blacks,” said Ryan of the concussion procedures. “We have got the utmost interests for our players so we’ll do everything we can to get that right and there’ll be no risks at all.”

One man who will likely be retained in the starting line-up, regardless of which jersey he’s asked to wear, is Barrett, who Ryan suggested has been the most impressive member of the All Blacks pack throughout the season to date.

“I’d say he’s probably our best performing All Black forward, to be honest. He’s been outstanding in every role, he’s a huge part of our forward pack. And he prepares accordingly and he’s playing some really good rugby.

“He’s been consistent and I think that’s followed on from his Super Rugby season and he’s hit the All Blacks running. He’s a pivotal part of the All Blacks team and our forward pack.”

The All Blacks will name their team on Thursday for this weekend’s match with the Wallabies – a match which could decide who takes home the Rugby Championship trophy.

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