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Lima Sopoaga delivers selection criticism for 'head scratching' All Blacks performances

By Ned Lester
(Photos / Getty Images)

Ian Foster’s selection tactics have again been called into question, this time by ex-All Black Lima Sopoaga.

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While Foster was set on growing combinations and providing consistency in selection throughout The Rugby Championship, his philosophy for the End of Year Tour shifted entirely in an effort to build experience throughout his 36-man roster.

While the All Blacks emerged from the tour unbeaten through the four matches, the inconsistency in performance throughout the games has only proved mildly comforting for fans, including Sopoaga.

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The 16-cap-All Black was primarily concerned with the continuity his fellow flyhalf Richie Mo’unga was seeing throughout the Test season.

“I mean, DC (Dan Carter) had (Ma’a) Nonu and Conrad (Smith) for how long? It rarely ever changed,” Sopoaga told SENZ Afternoons.

“Sometimes you’d get Sonny (Bill Williams) for the odd Test, but we sort of knew what we were doing.

“At the moment, I’m not really too sure if we know our identity of our attack or how we want to attack to be fair.”

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The frontrunners for Mo’unga’s midfield running mates come World Cup time look to be Jordie Barrett and Rieko Ioane, a well-rounded pairing but one that has only started three Tests outside Mo’unga to date.

Barrett’s start at 12 made him the ninth player to fill the jersey during Mo’unga’s time with the All Blacks.

“I really like the looks of Jordie Barrett at 12 and for me personally, I think we’ve just got to sort of put our foot down and say this is it,” Sopoaga added.

“We can’t keep chopping and changing, we (need to) pick our 10 and we pick our 12 and whatever else around it.

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“But at the moment, all of that chopping and changing probably doesn’t help the consistency and the continuity between building some pretty lethal combinations.

“We do have some talent there, it’s just one week it’s one guy, the next week it’s another guy and another 13 and it chops and changes.

“It is hard to build that trust and stuff but hopefully come the New Year, selectors and coaches have figured that out and I just think they (need to) just make a plan and stick to it and back it 100 per cent and go through with it.

“Not having that consistency and fluidity in building combinations (is difficult),”

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Despite moving to France in 2017, Sopoaga’s ties to the New Zealand team still run deep, which only make the season’s results all the more frustrating.

“Obviously a couple of tough losses here and there was just a bit head-scratching for me and it was hard to watch, I’ve got some good mates in there that have played some outstanding rugby in that black jersey all year.

“But it just didn’t look as fluid as it normally would and didn’t look as free and I guess that’s down to maybe also the pressure, get a couple bad results, it got pretty ugly down under, the expectation is to always win and with that comes a lot of pressure.”

Sopoaga also had a word of warning for the Kiwi side ahead of the World Cup being held in his new home of France, having been taken back by the passion the French fans have for the game and observing how the international landscape has changed.

“It’s going to be tough coming here to France and trying to get the job done with everything that’s going on and how strong the teams are, everybody’s sort of caught up so I’m sure they’ve got a couple plans up their sleeves come 2023 and we’ve just got to be patient.”

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