The All Blacks are set to inject a raft of fresh faces into their side for the fourth and final Bledisloe Cup clash of the year in Brisbane this weekend.
After ensuring the esteemed trans-Tasman trophy will stay on New Zealand shores for an 18th consecutive year, All Blacks assistant coach John Plumtree has revealed selection changes are imminent in the dead-rubber encounter at Suncorp Stadium.
The safety of not having the Bledisloe Cup on the line will give the All Blacks selectors some freedom when deciding on their team for Saturday’s test against the Wallabies, and with a large squad available to them, Plumtree hinted it is time for some rotation.
“We’ve got a large group over here,” he told media from Sydney over a Zoom call on Tuesday.
“At the end of the day, it’s quite a long tour, but if we can get all the boys that we’ve got over here some time – we’ve got new fellas like Du’Plessis Kirifi and Peter Umaga-Jensen – if we can get those guys onto the park, then they provide a different type of energy to the team and an excitement that comes through with young players that haven’t played for the All Blacks or maybe just came off the bench once.
“There is a number of boys like that here, which is really positive for us, and if there’s an opportunity to play these guys and rest others, then we’d definitely consider that.”
Throwing those uncapped or inexperienced players – and there are plenty of them in the All Blacks squad – into the mix would be good reward, Plumtree said, given how they had performed at training since the playing group first congregated in September.
“The group that’s helped prepare the All Blacks over the last two weeks have been outstanding and put us under pressure at training and provided really good opposition during the week when we really needed the intensity of our week [to] amp up.
“These boys have been outstanding and they’ve been complimented by senior players the whole time and you can see they’re loving their work, these young guys who are providing that type of competition for the boys during the week.
“The ultimate reward for them is to give them a crack, and we’ll definitely look at that. Not saying it’ll happen for all of them, but it’s something we’re seriously considering.”
Since Dave Rennie took over, the Wallabies have long been touted as a team for the future, rather than a team for today. https://t.co/207dBS5JvR
— RugbyPass (@RugbyPass) November 3, 2020
When pressed further on the issue, Plumtree conceded there will be alterations for the Brisbane test, which will also act as New Zealand’s second match of the Tri Nations.
“There will be some changes. We’ve got some players knocking on the door and there’s been some awesome competition for spots and you can expect some changes to freshen players up,” he said.
“As selectors, we want to see a few players who have performed really well during Super [Rugby] who have got this opportunity to play in the jersey, to play in Brisbane.”
A total of 30 players have been used by the All Blacks in their first three tests of the year, all of which have come against the Wallabies.
Of those still fit and available, perhaps the biggest name still yet to feature in test match rugby this season is five-test halfback Brad Weber, who has found himself stuck behind veteran duo Aaron Smith and TJ Perenara in the pecking order.
There will also be a large swell of supporters eager to see uncapped star Will Jordan in action for the national side considering how well he played for the Crusaders throughout Super Rugby Aoteaora.
His involvement may require either a re-shuffle in the outside backs, where head coach Ian Foster has been insistent on utilising a dual playmaker system that needs a No. 10 at fullback.
That role has been adequately filled, to say the least, by Beauden Barrett, while younger brother Jordie – seen by many as the form fullback of Super Rugby Aotearoa – has been partnered on the wing with standout rookie Caleb Clarke.
Foster has previously spoken of how the younger Barrett has been working on his ability as a playmaker to fill the No. 15 role in the All Blacks.
After being shifted there to close out the game in last week’s 43-5 thrashing of Australia at ANZ Stadium, this week’s encounter could act as a chance for Jordie to show his playmaking credentials from the back as part of an experimental side.
— RugbyPass (@RugbyPass) November 2, 2020
What impact that would have at first-five, where Richie Mo’unga was exceptional, holds significant interest given Beauden’s prominence within the team, but a positional switch for Jordie could open up a spot on the right wing for Jordan.
In the midfield, both Ngani Laumape and Peter Umaga-Jensen have made only brief one-off cameos from the bench across the first three tests and could challenge incumbents Jack Goodhue and Anton Lienert-Brown for starting roles this weekend.
Up front, hooker Asafo Aumua is still yet to win his first test cap, despite having been a regular in the All Blacks camp since making two non-test appearances against the Barbarians and a French XV in 2017.
The same can be said of loose forward Akira Ioane, whose only match for the All Blacks came against the French XV, which could put both players in contention for some well-deserved game time in Queensland.
Like Laumape and Umaga-Jensen, powerful flanker Dalton Papalii has just one match off the bench to his name, but, as is the case for the uncapped Du’Plessis Kirifi, pinching a starting role off either Ardie Savea or Sam Cane will be hard to come by.
20-year-old prospect Cullen Grace has also impressed in training, and is waiting patiently in the wings for his first test cap alongside Crusaders teammates Mitchell Dunshea and George Bower.
The latter, a loosehead prop who only became a provincial regular for Otago two years ago, might be able to cap off a fairytale rise to the All Blacks with Joe Moody unlikely to feature this weekend as he continues to undergo concussion protocols.
Who of all the aforementioned names will be promoted into the match day squad come Saturday remains to be seen, but Plumtree is adamant that regardless of who takes to the field, everyone involved will be eager to earn their stripes.
“The Bled was obviously a priority, and the Tri Nations is now where our mindset’s shifted to, winning this second trophy,” he said.
“We’re on tour, we’ve got a big group of players, and everyone’s keen to impress, and some guys on the weekend are going to get that opportunity.”
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