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The All Blacks cannot lose this week

By Hamish Bidwell
(Photo By David Fitzgerald/Sportsfile via Getty Images)

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The Covid-positives outweigh the negatives, where the All Blacks are concerned.

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No, it’s not great news that the Crusaders trio of David Havili, Jack Goodhue and Will Jordan will miss Saturday’s first test match against Ireland.

All would have been in my starting side and all are a loss.

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Reviewing the All Blacks squad | The Breakdown
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Reviewing the All Blacks squad | The Breakdown

On the whole, though, this is a good week for our national side.

People are on the fence about the All Blacks. Some are even over the other side and hoping Ireland will win this three-test series and pressure New Zealand Rugby to make a drastic, last-minute decision and punt Ian Foster as head coach.

But adversity galvanises folk. It tugs at the public’s heart strings and puts them back onside with the players.

The All Blacks cannot lose this week. If they win, it’s a famous victory to rank alongside the 1986 ‘Baby Blacks’ team that beat France.

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If they lose, particularly in courageous fashion, no-one will condemn them for it.

I think it’s a huge plus for everyone that Foster’s involvement is limited to Zoom calls this week. Just as I feel it’s an advantage to have Sam Whitelock largely running the forward pack.

The addition of Joe Schmidt to the coaching group is an incredible stroke of luck. He’d have been a welcome addition to the staff at any time, but especially so when the opponent is Ireland.

I’d go as far as to say the team that runs onto Eden Park will be as well-prepared as any in our history.

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We all agree the All Blacks have lacked obvious clarity under Foster. That if there was a plan, it’s been difficult to discern.

I think Schmidt, provided incumbent assistant Brad Mooar gets out of the way and Foster isn’t chucking his oar in too much, has the ability to focus the group and give them the tools to win.

The only potential issue now is personnel.

I’d have gone Jordie Barrett, Jordan, Goodhue, Havili, Rieko Ioane, Beauden Barrett, Aaron Smith, Ardie Savea, Dalton Papalii, Tupou Vaa’i, Whitelock, Brodie Retallick, Nepo Laulala, Dane Coles and George Bower to start this week.

Jordan’s out, so Sevu Reece goes there. Reece is a right wing, if playing, never a left.

Reluctantly, Ioane has to be a centre now, alongside Quinn Tupaea in midfield. Leicester Fainga’anuku wears No.11.

We hope everyone now stays fit and well and can put whatever distractions this week’s caused behind them.

Players are funny, though. A lot of the time they don’t actually know or care who they’re marking, just as they can be indifferent to who’s coaching.

They’re selfish, territorial people by nature and tend to have an intense focus on themselves.

I can imagine the team’s media this week – both pre and post match – and all the pathetic questions about disruptions and adversity and pulling together.

It’s all crap.

People, be they coaches or players, get sick or injured or dropped all the time and the show goes seamlessly on.

Players have their job to do, and all the pressure and anxiety that goes with it, and genuinely aren’t that bothered by much else.

I reckon they’ll find this week liberating and the crowd very much behind them on Saturday. They’ll enjoy being reliant on themselves and a bit more free of Foster.

Far from being a problem, this could be the making of this team.

They’ve lacked an identity and personality under Foster. There’s no clear leader and no obvious knowledge of how to combat the opposition.

Well, the boys themselves are more in charge this week, alongside a real detail man in Schmidt.

I reckon it could be a very effective mix.

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