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The explanation behind the All Blacks' four changes

By Sam Smith
(Photo By Ramsey Cardy/Sportsfile via Getty Images)

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The All Blacks have made just four personnel changes to the starting line-up for Saturday’s series-deciding clash with Ireland, with head coach Ian Foster opting to bring in a raft of experienced players into the 23.

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Nepo Laulala, Sam Whitelock, David Havili and Will Jordan have joined the run-on side for this weekend’s fixture while Dane Coles, Akira Ioane and Roger Tuivasa-Sheck have been added to the bench.

Debutant Tuivasa-Sheck aside, the other six players who have been promoted into the team are all more experienced than the men they’ve replaced – hinting that the All Blacks believe old heads will be needed to grab a victory in Wellington.

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“Plenty of experience and good form,” Foster said when asked what Whitelock would bring to the team after sitting out last week’s loss due to concussion. “I thought his first test was one of the best tests I’ve seen him play for a couple of years.

“He’s really motivated but it’s not just him, bringing Nepo back from a neck [complaint] that has been bothering him, the likes of David Havili coming back in, Will Jordan having another week after Covid just to freshen up… So there is some good experience coming back into this group.

 

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“You got Colesy on the bench and the likes of Akira, whose foot’s coming right, there’s some nice signs there.”

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Foster indicated that while there had been an overall selection strategy for the three-test series, injuries and illness had shaken things up for the coaches – however many of the players who had been previously been unavailable were back on deck and ready for the deciding test.

“It’s never obvious and easy (to select a team),” Foster said. “There’s always some conversations around a couple of things. We’ve had a plan going into the series of a few things and it’s probably enabled us to go back to that plan.

“There was a selection plan going into this about some things we wanted to get out of it and there was a few players in those first two tests that perhaps weren’t available at the time that we wanted so I think this time it’s a chance. The likes of bringing Davey back in, we’re delighted he’s in great shape. Sammy Whitelock, the chance to give Scott another chance at 6. They’re some of the things we talked about.”

In past series, the All Blacks have typically used the third and final test to give opportunities to players who’d not yet had a chance to play but with the series now on the line thanks to Ireland’s impressive 23-12 victory, there’s little room for error in Wellington.

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“It’s getting the balance of the toughness of losing, but taking the lessons out of that and moving on really quickly into the next stuff,” he said.

“This is where you want to be in terms of excitement. We don’t want to lose a test, but we have. To come in and have a big game in front of us like this just means the eyes go very quickly from looking back to looking forward.”

Saturday’s fixture between the All Blacks and Ireland is set to kick of at 7:05pm NZT from Sky Stadium.

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