Plumtree drops big All Blacks selection hints for buzzing USA clash
The game against the USA looms as the easiest of the coming matches, with the Eagles ranked 17th on the world rankings and recently falling victim to Uruguay during the World Cup qualifiers. As such, New Zealand are expected to roll out a much-changed side from the team that succumbed to the Springboks in the final game of the Rugby Championship.
In fact, it wouldn’t come as a major surprise if there were a complete rotation of the starting XV.
Fringe players could enter the lineup, having been forced to hold tackle bags throughout much of the tour to date, while the likes of returning players Sam Whitelock, Sam Cane and Dane Coles will all be primed for a run-around.
“Certainly, for this weekend, there’ll be a few boys that haven’t had any footy for a little while getting an opportunity,” assistant coach John Plumtree said on Wednesday.
“It’s a good opportunity for us to use players right through the squad and we’ve got some pretty big games coming up in the UK so it’s really important that we use some of the squad members that haven’t had a lot of footy.”
A small group of players – likely the men who have shouldered the biggest workloads, such as Brodie Retallick, Ardie Savea and Rieko Ioane – will head on to the UK before this weekend’s fixture, while there’s a relatively clean bill of health, although there is one man who’s only just linked up with the squad who is also set to miss out on the action.
“The only player’s that not available is Shannon Frizell, who’s still recovering from a knock that he got with the [Tasman] side a couple of weeks ago but apart from that, everyone else is good,” Plumtree confirmed.
With Frizell a possible second row cover for the side, which includes just four locks, his absence coupled with Retallick’s probable relocation to England all but guarantees 21-year-old lock Josh Lord will make his debut for the All Blacks this weekend.
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Lord isn’t the only player who’ll be buzzing ahead of the action, however, with Plumtree highlighting the energy that’s building in the squad ahead of the match, despite a tough start to the week.
“Obviously the long travel, the jetlag we’ve got to contend with for the early part of this week and obviously Sean [Wainui]’s passing as well… So there’ve been a couple of obstacles,” Plumtree said. “But I’m expecting we freshen up tomorrow with a day off, got a couple of things planned for the team, a little bit of relaxation and a little bit of an opportunity for the boys to catch their breath tomorrow, and then Thursday we’re really looking to hook in and that will give us a couple of days to really get our minds right and in the space that we need to to prepare the All Blacks for a test match.
“We heard there’s a big crowd turning up for the weekend. There’ll be a massive buzz around watching this game. I think it’s the first time the All Blacks have been to Washington so I think there’ll be a big buzz all right. We don’t really feel it because we’re not out and about [due to Covid protocols] but we’re certainly aware of it.
“Hopefully, we’ll get to have a look at [FedExField] on Friday but if not, it’ll be a nice surprise when we turn up [for the match]. This team loves playing in front of big crowds and the fact that everyone’s excited to watch us play and watch us play the Eagles will just add to that excitement as well.
“We’ve got a big squad of players and there’ll be a couple of players that might not have played for a little while and that will add to the excitement for those individuals, getting out on the park.”
Saturday’s fixture kicks off at 3:30pm EDT (8:30am NZT on Sunday morning).
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