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'That's not unusual': Foster not concerned over All Blacks' lack of cohesion

By Ben Smith
(Photo by Paolo Bruno/Getty Images)

Head coach Ian Foster made mass changes to the All Blacks starting line-up for their clash against Italy which took awhile to bear fruit as they struggled to get continuity in their attack over the first half.

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The coaching staff rested most of the side that comprehensively beat Wales a week ago, putting in an entirely new starting XV, one that was very similar to the team that played the USA in Washington.

However, the side still had plenty of experience as Sam Cane and Dane Coles returned from injuries, while Crusaders first five Richie Mo’unga got another start.

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Foster had anticipated that making such changes would have an impact, but said it was up to the team to decide if that was going to be good or bad. He said that it wasn’t ‘unusual’ for the All Blacks to take so long to settle into the game after they¬†went to the sheds with a 21-3 lead after nearly a scoreless first half hour.

“I think it always has an impact. We know that,” Foster said of the mass changes made to the side.

“It’s up to us whether it’s a good impact or a bad impact. This group’s been training together, we always knew this was going to be a massive step-up in terms of what Italy was going to do compared to the USA and that’s exactly what it was.

“The fact that it took us a while to settle down, that’s not unusual in a test match and I like the fact that we actually found a way. Were we frustrated after 27 minutes? Well, clearly we were but we didn’t allow ourselves to get too loose.

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“We found some solutions and still scored three tries in that first half, which was pleasing, and then added a few more in that second half.

“Overally, really delighted with the score, with the result, but we got a good workout.”

Diagnosing what went wrong with the team’s struggling attack, Foster highlighted an overeagerness to push the ball wide under pressure as one of the reasons the side made so many errors with ball-in-hand.

As a result, the side changed tactics for the second half in order to play more direct and take the Italians on up the middle a lot more.

“I think when we move the ball to spaces where it wasn’t on, we got put under pressure,” Foster said.

“And again, we knew that was coming and we tried a few options within that space but we ended up making a whole lot of handling errors in particularly that area, and also handling errors at the contact point where we got a bit loose with our carry and got a bit ambitious with some passes/offloads on that tackle-line.

“It culminated in us being a bit messy early on but, again, I think if you go to the second half, we actually went more to the middle of the park than we did in the first half.

“We actually spread them out a little bit more and actually started to get some reward but not all the time. There’s no one strategy here. There’s a whole lot and we’ve got to be good enough to see it at the time.”

Captain Sam Cane said the half-time chat was about finding the solutions to the problems that the Italians posed, including more intent around the breakdown to get more flow in their attacking play.

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“The chat was very much solution-focused, identifying what was going well and what wasn’t,” Cane said.

“And, obviously, there was a few more things that weren’t going well and how we could try rectify those.

“And then also just come out that second half, bring in a wee bit more intent with what we wanted to do, particularly at the breakdown, because we weren’t getting much favours there and it was a bit of a challenging [area] for us.”

The All Blacks now face the most challenging leg of the tour, with tests against a full strength Ireland side in Dublin followed by a meeting with France in Paris.

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