Major changes expected for All Blacks' final Bledisloe Cup showdown
Now that the All Blacks have locked away the Bledisloe Cup for another season, head coach Ian Foster has the luxury of experimenting with his lineup somewhat in the third and final test against the Wallabies for the season.
While there’s still more than a week to go before the two neighbouring nations square off in Australia on August 28, the big involvement of some All Blacks coupled with a number of physical upcoming matches against the Springboks and the Pumas means Foster way well consider resting some of the men who’ve shouldered heavy loads over the past two weekends.
With a squad of 36 at his disposal, Foster could easily rotate his entire starting XV, should he choose. That likely won’t happen, with the All Blacks expected to maintain at least some continuity – but there will inevitably be at least a handful of changes, especially in positions where the depth is mouth-watering.
Chiefs among those positions is the key playmaker role, where Richie Mo’unga has showcased his world-class talents in two excellent performances against the Wallabies. Waiting in the wings, however, is two-time World Rugby Player of the Year Beauden Barrett, who’s had minimal chance to prove his capabilities since returning from Japan earlier this year.
Speaking on the latest episode of the Aotearoa Rugby Pod, former All Blacks hooker James Parsons suggested that it’s about time Barrett gets a second bite at the carrot, after last starting for the national side in their 57-23 over Fiji in July.
“Someone like Richie doesn’t want to have a break, I understand that, but I’d love to see Beaudie get a crack at 10 and see what he can do there,” said Parsons.
Parsons also mooted changes to the forwards, including potentially giving inspirational stand-in skipper Sam Whitelock the week off.
“In and around the forward pack, you could potentially look at giving the skip a rest,” he said. “There’s quite a few more tests to come. He’s playing outstanding as well but making sure he’s managed a little bit and there’s some pretty quality locks that are sitting waiting for an opportunity as well.”
Whitelock and Brodie Retallick started both Bledisloe Cup tests with Patrick Tuipuluto and Scott Barrett each earning a handful of minutes off the bench. 21-year-old Tupou Vaa’i, meanwhile, hasn’t yet been sighted for the All Blacks this year, such is the depth.
A slightly more left-field request from Parsons was for the All Blacks to bring wrecking ball rake Asafo Aumua back into the mix.
Richie McCaw, Sir Michael Jones and Zinzan Brooke have been named as the greatest All Blacks loose forwards of all-time by a panel of rugby experts and the Kiwi public. #AllBlacks https://t.co/PnJQatc8Jy
— RugbyPass (@RugbyPass) August 17, 2021
The 24-year-old has notched up just 33 minutes of action for the men in black this season, in their opening game of the year against Tonga. A head injury has seen the Hurricane limited to some provincial rugby for Wellington since that first test, but the third Bledisloe looms as the perfect opportunity for Aumua to make his return.
“I’d love to see Asafo Aumua get a crack at some stage,” he said. “I don’t know where he’s at with his concussion and that but even if it’s not in the Bledisloe, at some stage – end of year tour or whatever – I’m just really keen to see his development progress.
“If you look at Samisoni Taukei’aho [Aumua’s injury-cover in the squad], how much he’s grown and developed by having continuous weeks in the side in those preparation environments, he just looks at home at that level. He looks so comfortable and I just think, imagine if we could string a couple of weeks together with Asafo Aumua [it] would be great as well.”
Bryn Hall, Parsons’ co-panellist, suggested the All Blacks are certain to make changes in the loose forwards – another position of exceptional depth.
“There might be a few changes in the loose forward trio as well,” Hall said. “The possibility of a Shannon Frizell [coming in], Luke Jacobson, who’s been probably talked around probably having a start, whether that be 8 or 6 – probably at 8. Even Hoskins [Sotutu], who had a great performance for Counties Manukau on the weekend.”
“I think we can consider Blackadder at 7 as well,” added Parsons. “Dalton [Papalii], he’s made a lot of tackles the last two weeks and he’s hit a lot of rucks. There’s nothing he’s not in. There’s some pretty big, physical matches coming against South Africa and Argie.”
While both Parsons and Hall acknowledged that no player wants to be rested when they’re putting in strong performances, they also agreed that with the long season ahead, there’s no point pushing players beyond their limits at this early stage, regardless of their form.
Listen to the full episode below:
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