'They got us back in the game' - Foster's finishers prove key
The decisive impact proved to come from the bench in Dunedin last night, as the likes of Dane Coles and Sam Whitelock bolstered the All Blacks up front, helping to eventually overpower a physical Fijian outfit 57-23.
In his 76th appearance Coles, introduced after 50 minutes, grabbed four tries, with three coming as a direct result of the All Blacks’ lineout maul.
In post-match, the Hurricanes man was quick to identify the crucial influence of Whitelock, who like Coles featured off the bench in this, his 124th All Blacks appearance.
“Sam took a big leadership role,” noted Coles. “He told [those on the bench] to create a bit of tempo, speed the game up a bit and [after that] the forwards went to work and took a little bit of control back. It was good to see.”
Certainly, the early Fijian fight came up front and with twenty minutes left on the clock, Vern Cotter’s side were just eight points adrift of the All Blacks. The introduction of Coles and Whitelock however, both seasoned All Blacks campaigners, proved decisive, with the All Blacks’ lineout really starting to function as a weapon for the home side.
All Blacks head coach Ian Foster, echoed his replacement hooker’s thoughts after the game, commenting on the importance of tempo to the All Blacks and its effect in turning the side’s fortunes.
“We want to be able to lift the tempo of the game when our subs come on and the only way we can do that is through accuracy,” said Foster. “We were able to lift up the tempo of the game because we got a little bit more accurate as the game wore on.”
That accuracy was indeed very apparent at lineout time for the All Blacks and on his four scores, Coles credited his team mates for getting him over, after their hard work at the set piece.
“I didn’t do too much really, I just sat on the back of a drive,” remarked the 34-year-old. “I think it was the way that the impact boys, guys especially like Sam, just lifted the tempo … [that brought] some control and I think it was good leadership from Whitelock and Brodie Retallick just to calm the ship and get us back in the game.”
Equally, both Coles and All Blacks assistant head coach John Plumtree praised the efforts of the Flying Fijians and relished the intensity that Cotter’s side brought to the test in their first test since 2020.
"For the second year in succession, Ioane has been the form No 13 in New Zealand – a creator and scorer of tries and a player who has continued to wield an influence that simply can’t be missed."
— The XV Rugby (@TheXV) July 10, 2021
“It was awesome [to play Fiji],” said Coles. “I’ve seen a lot of those guys playing for the European teams – some of those guys are awesome – big, big humans! It’s good for us, [we showed] good physicality but we’ve got to be a bit better.”
“We got a nice test up front,” agreed Plumtree. “Particularly in the first half, where they drove us a few times and put us under pressure, so there are some good learnings there. It was just the test match we needed at the start of the season.”
The All Blacks will look to build on their experiences as they play Fiji in the last test of the Steinlager Series next week in Hamilton.
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