'South Africa losing doesn't really change anything for us'
The All Blacks‘ 39-0 win over the Pumas last weekend ensured they finished the third round of the Rugby Championship on maximum points, having also scored bonus-point victories in their prior two games with the Wallabies. When the Wallabies trumped the Springboks in the match played directly afterwards, it’s fair to suggest the All Blacks very quickly had one hand on the trophy for 2021.
With 15 points to their name, the All Blacks sit 6 competition points clear of the Springboks. While it’s clearly not impossible for South Africa to make that difference up over the final three rounds of the competition, that would require NZ to drop at least one game – probably two.
As such, Ian Foster could be forgiven for rolling out an inexperienced side in the team’s final match-up with Argentina for the year, but the All Blacks head coach has confirmed that the Springboks’ loss at the hands of the Wallabies hasn’t altered the selectors’ thinking. In fact, much of the side named to take on the Pumas this Saturday was planned in advance, before a ball was even kicked last weekend.
“We basically had 99 per cent of these changes locked in when we went into this two-game phase with Argentina,” Foster said, after naming a team with 11 changes to the run-on side.
“South Africa losing doesn’t really change anything for us. It’s given us a lead in the Rugby Championship but we’d be foolish to go in and hand that back straight away. We clearly want to maximise our opportunities in front of us.”
That means not slipping up against the Pumas, who scored a historic first-ever victory over the All Blacks in Newcastle last year.
After last weekend’s 39-0 victory, Foster is well aware that Argentina will be hurting, and will respond in kind.
“This is a massive game for us,” he said. “We know Argentina’s going to respond. We know we had a really good win last week and so we know expectations are high on us and it’d be dangerous if you think it’s just going to all happen and then we’re going to get smacked.
“This group, there’s a lot of pressure on this group. We’ve got to make sure that we have a really good performance this weekend and from a Championship perspective, this win’s vital for us.”
The All Blacks haven’t won the Rugby Championship since 2018.
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In 2019, the competition was compressed into just three matches per team, as opposed to the normal home and away format, and the All Blacks managed a win over the Pumas and a draw with the Springboks but suffered a hefty defeat against the Wallabies to finish third.
Last year, the Springboks withdrew from the competition, forcing the remaining sides to play off in a refreshed Tri-Nations, which the All Blacks secured with two wins and a draw from their four matches.
By mixing up the team this week, Foster has also ensured that the All Blacks will enter their two upcoming (and potentially competition-deciding) matches with the Springboks with a full contingent of relatively fresh players – which should bode well for the showdowns with the world champions.
“You don’t also want to run out of steam in the last couple of matches of a five-test block,” Foster said. “It’s about balancing the team, the performance, and making sure that we’ve got the energy to be explosive out on the park in all five test matches. I guess it’s the art of selection.
“Some of these changes have been flagged for quite a while but overall, we’re happy. It’s part of the challenge of being an All Black. You’ve got to prepare to play and whoever puts on that jersey, we’ve still got to be responsible for the performance.
“A few changes, people get pretty excited about that and start to worry [about] the performance levels but if we can perform at the level we really want then we know as a group that we’re really taking the strides forward that we want.”
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