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Roger Tuivasa-Sheck one of a smorgasbord of All Blacks released for NPC duty

By Tom Vinicombe
Roger Tuivasa-Sheck. (Photo by Dave Rowland/Getty Images)

Roger Tuivasa-Sheck will get another opportunity to further his development as a rugby union player this weekend when he comes off the bench for Auckland in their NPC match-up with Northland on Saturday afternoon.

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The former Warriors superstar is one of eight All Blacks to be released for provincial duty for Round 5 of the NPC and will be joined in the Auckland reserves by prop Angus Ta’avao, who last featured for the national side in their defeat in Mbombela. Tuivasa-Sheck, on the other hand, hasn’t played for the All Blacks since his Test debut in mid-July.

Speaking after naming an unchanged starting XV for this weekend’s rematch with Argentina, All Blacks head coach Ian Foster suggested that there are still some key work-ons for Tuivasa-Sheck as he acclimatises to the 15-man game and a run with Auckland this weekend will undoubtedly help give the 29-year-old a boost of confidence for when he’s next required to don a black jersey.

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“He’s a fast learner,” Foster said of the midfielder.

“His work from the attacking side, particularly getting involved around our forwards in the middle of the park is something that he hasn’t spent a lot of time on during Super Rugby so that’s been taking a little while.

“His instincts at the breakdown are probably the number one growth point for him and again, we’re seeing some really good strides in that space.

“Those are some aspects he can go away and work on in that space. Overall, really pleased with the growth but I guess now it’s just waiting for the opportunity.”

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Tupou Vaa’i, who has been on the bench for all three of the All Blacks’ Rugby Championship outings this season but accumulated just 11 minutes of action, will get the chance to stretch his legs for Taranaki when they take on Waikato on Saturday afternoon while Tasman can call upon Leicester Fainga’anuku, Canterbury will have access to Brayon Ennor, Aidan Ross will pack down for Bay of Plenty and Counties Manukau will again field Nepo Laulala and Hoskins Sotutu.

Foster confirmed that while some players will head to their provincial sides with specific focuses, the NPC sides are largely left to their own devices.

“There’s a little bit of just ‘go away and play’,” Foster explained. “If there’s a key area that you do want a player to develop, we’ll certainly share that. But it’s a bit hard for the NPC coaches to change things that they’re doing when we plonk players back in. It’s not as easy as you think it is.

“The general message is the player goes with a couple of key things that we want them to focus on and that’s probably a little more general to them as a rugby player than specific to a gameplan type scenario.”

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While the All Blacks have recently refrained from releasing too many players to their NPC teams in weekends where they’re been left out of the Test 23, Foster said that it was important to get some minutes under players’ belts this week due to the short turnaround before they head to Australia ahead of the final two rounds of the Rugby Championship.

“We’re releasing more than normal,” he said, “primarily based on we’ve had two weeks in South Africa, we’ve come back, we’ve had some new coaching voices so we’ve wanted the group to stay together for last week but with us leaving on Thursday to Melbourne and that being a short week, we can’t have players playing next week so we’ve made a decision to release quite a few this weekend.”

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