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'Proven that he's an international No 7': Foster's words for absent flanker

By Tom Vinicombe
Dalton Papalii. (Photo by Getty Images)

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Given the extended squad the All Blacks have had to call upon this year, Ian Foster has needed to regularly let almost 20 players know on a weekly basis that they’ve missed out on selection for the next fixture in the calendar.

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That’s not a fantastic conversation to have at the best of times, but the fact that this weekend’s match with France is the final one of the season made letting players know they’d missed out on making the team even tougher.

Foster and his selection team have made 13 changes to the match-day squad for Saturday’s clash. As a consequence, some regular starters such as Codie Taylor, Ethan Blackadder and Dalton Papalii won’t feature in the final game of the campaign. There are also a number of fringe players who would have been hoping to get one last chance at putting in a good performance before the team breaks up for the summer who have missed out.

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The panel of Ross Karl, Bryn Hall and James Parsons run their eyes over all the developments from the past week of rugby.
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The panel of Ross Karl, Bryn Hall and James Parsons run their eyes over all the developments from the past week of rugby.

“I think the last week’s always the toughest and those Monday night conversations or Tuesday conversations aren’t very pleasant as a head coach,” Foster said following the team naming. “And particularly when we’re making a number of changes with guys that have sort of put so much into this tour and so much into this campaign but we just felt that we needed to go with the fresh bodies so I think that they’re never easy. Everyone’s highly competitive, they want to play.

“To be fair, the response has been [the players who missed out went] from bitterly disappointed to ‘What can I do for this team?’ so, again, the response has been outstanding.”

The crunch was particularly evident in the loose forwards, with Papalii’s and Blackadder’s omissions paving the way for Akira Ioane and Sam Cane to shift into the starting line-up and Shannon Frizell to come onto the bench but that still means both Luke Jacobson and Hoskins Sotutu have missed out on playing in the final two matches of the year.

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While Papalii and Blackadder have shouldered heavy workloads throughout the season, making 13 starts and 17 appearances between them, the same can’t be said for Jacobson and Sotutu, who have primarily been utilised in the less competitive games.

Still, letting any player know they’d missed out on the final line-up was a tough job for Foster but at least with men like Papalii he was able to soften the blow with some words of praise.

“I don’t like to share too much about those conversations but I guess [the conversation with Papalii] did involve a handshake and a ‘congratulations’ for an outstanding season,” Foster said. “He should be very, very proud of what he’s achieved.

“He’s pretty battered and bruised after that Irish test but he’s put in some big games for us this year and really proven that he’s an international No 7.”

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The All Blacks’ final test of the season kicks off at 9pm CET on Saturday (9am on Sunday morning in New Zealand) from Paris.

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