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'Took a little while': Foster's verdict on All Black debutants Stevenson and Finau

By Ben Smith
Samipeni Finau, Dallas McLeod and Fletcher Newell of New Zealand sing the national anthem during The Rugby Championship & Bledisloe Cup match between the New Zealand All Blacks and the Australia Wallabies at Forsyth Barr Stadium on August 05, 2023 in Dunedin, New Zealand. (Photo by Joe Allison/Getty Images)

It was a baptism of fire for Ian Foster’s new look All Blacks which included two new debutants in a heavily changed line-up for Bledisloe II in Dunedin.


The home side got off to the worst possible start as the Wallabies exploded out of the blocks with a rapid start, scoring inside three minutes through winger Marika Koroibete.

The fired up Australians didn’t stop there, with barnstorming loose forward Tom Hooper crashing over in the same corner minutes later to extend the lead to 14-0.

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Debutant Shaun Stevenson was under fire with two tries conceded down his channel while new flanker Samipeni Finau was also feeling the heat, lacking accuracy around the breakdown giving away two penalties in the first half.

All Blacks head coach Ian Foster was proud of the way the pair bounced back in the second half, with each of them playing an important part in the 23-20 comeback win.

“I thought some of the new guys played better in the second half and that’s a good sign too,” Ian Foster said of his new players.

“Sometimes when you come into a Test match you can do everything that you are good at and it shines, this one you had to work hard.


“I thought they took a little while to adjust to the pace of the game.

“As the game unfolded they got more involved and we started to see what they could contribute.”

In the game of two halves, Stevenson’s afternoon immediately looked a little brighter as he scored the All Blacks first try of the afternoon just three minutes in the second forty.

Bursting onto a Damian McKenzie’s cutout pass, he powered through the cover tackle of Andrew Kellaway and contorted through the next man Koroibete to finish in the corner.

Samipeni Finau began to make an impact with his carry game as the game wore on, creating front foot ball for the All Blacks. He powered through four Wallabies defenders to score the go-ahead try in the 64th minute.


“Particularly Samipeni, he came back. He finished over the top of them a little bit, which was nice to see,” Foster said.

Veteran All Blacks halfback Aaron Smith credited the debutants with adding something to a ‘special’ performance which although he said was ‘ugly’ at times, is the kind of game that he will remember.

After wrapping up the campaign with four wins from four, each player will be waiting for the call on Monday as the World Cup squad is announced.

“I thought the new boys really added something tonight,” Smith said.

“Unreal, I’m really happy for them. That’s the beauty of our squad, the next man up has to do a job.

“It was an amazing Rugby Championship, a special one. Special for our team.

“We were looking to make changes from last year, and we are taking some positive steps.

“We are definitely not the finished product. I think we are all waiting for Monday night now.”

Ian Foster’s bold selection for the second Bledisloe Test was done with the bigger picture in mind.

The All Blacks head coach explained his reasoning in his post-match press conference which helped the team get ‘World Cup ready’.

“The overall objective was to win this Test but also get the squad to the starting line of the World Cup,” Foster said.

“If we didn’t do this game the way we did, the danger was we would’ve had a number of players in a World Cup squad that hadn’t played serious Test match for eight to nine weeks.

“We knew what we were doing.”


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TRENDING England must follow South Africa's lead to achieve any success again England must follow South Africa's lead to achieve any success again