All Blacks assistant coach John Plumtree has dropped a hint at how he and his co-selectors plan to pick this week’s team to face Los Pumas in Newcastle on Saturday.
In what will be their final test of the year, the All Blacks will be looking to bounce back from two consecutive losses, the latter of which was a shock result as Argentina toppled New Zealand for the first time in test rugby history.
After a week off following the 25-15 defeat at Bankwest Stadium, the New Zealanders will turn their attention to their final assignment of 2020 with the Tri-Nations title on the line.
Argentina’s 15-all draw with the Wallabies last week has blown the tournament wide open, with all three teams tied on six competition points each.
Needing a win to have any chance of winning the the silverware on offer, Plumtree has indicated the All Blacks are likely to field their strongest available team rather than use the match as a chance to develop youngsters.
Speaking to media over Zoom with star playmaker Beauden Barrett on Tuesday, Plumtree said the lack of tests this year has prevented inexperienced players from gaining as much game time as he and his fellow selectors would have liked.
However, he ensured that test caps can’t be handed out easily, and the best interests of the team will be taken into consideration when it comes to picking this week’s side.
“Ideally, we wanted to give everyone time on this trip,” Plumtree said.
“We have a lot of new fellas and we wanted to reward them with [game] time. Some have got that, some haven’t. Some haven’t got a lot, but that’s just the nature of being with this team. It’s not a given right to be selected for the All Blacks.
“We don’t have a lot of tests, and as selectors, we’ve got to do what’s best for the team, but right now, we’re in a situation where we have to do really well, like Beaudy [Barrett] said, around this weekend in terms of the Tri-Nations.
“That’s the trophy that we’re after now we’ve got the Bled [Bledisloe Cup] put away, and now we’re in for a sniff of the Tri-Nations and we’ll be going hard at that.”
— RugbyPass (@RugbyPass) November 24, 2020
That doesn’t mean those with fewer test caps than their more experienced teammates aren’t out of the running for playing time this week, though.
In fact, when asked whether Akira Ioane, who made his test debut in the 24-22 loss to the Wallabies in Brisbane three weeks ago on the back of an impressive Super Rugby season, was pushing for his second cap, Plumtree was clear in his response.
“Yup, definitely,” he said, “and Hoskins [Sotutu] we’re looking at as well, and Dalton Papalii hasn’t had a lot of time as well.
“All these players have been fantastic through Super Rugby and they’ve been great on this trip as well – if they come off the bench or if they’re helping us getting prepared, I can’t fault them, so they all deserve an opportunity, it’s just whether they get it.”
Regardless of who is asked to front against Argentina at McDonald Jones Stadium, one thing is certain – a vast improvement in discipline will be key if the All Blacks are to finish the season on a high note.
Barrett was quick to admit that after his side were guilty of reacting too easily to the niggle dished out by both the Wallabies and Los Pumas in their two most recent tests, leading to needless penalties which cost them dearly.
The two-time World Rugby Player of the Year said the All Blacks will need to make amendments to their mindset if they are to stay on the right side of the referee’s whistle and give themselves the best chance of victory.
“It’s clearly been our discipline,” Barrett said when asked of where things have been going wrong for the All Blacks in recent weeks.
“The last two games, you’ve seen referees being forced to make some big decisions and a lot of penalties up against us, and probably both teams to be fair.
“We can’t give them any opportunity to do that, that starts with us and our discipline.
“You look at our attack and defence and you can pick that apart as much as you want, but it starts with us not giving the refs anything.”
— RugbyPass (@RugbyPass) November 24, 2020
In order to help combat his squad’s ill-discipline, Plumtree revealed head coach Ian Foster had devised a training regime designed to force his side to subdue their frustrations on the field.
“We’re putting the players under pressure and Fozzie’s been working really hard on that, just with coming up with some creative games where, potentially, the players might get a little bit upset with some of his decisions,” Plumtree said.
“That’s just part of it, so there has been a big focus for us off the field as well, so we feel like we’ve come a long way in that space.
“I think a lot of the players have learned more about that, just controlling their emotions on the pitch – when things don’t go so well, how do we go about that, how we help each other as well out there.
“These are all things that have been a big focus for us the last couple of weeks.”
Just how well the All Blacks have learned to temper their grievances will be put to the test this weekend.
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