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'Vying for blood': All Blacks great warns of 'tough' spring tour

By Finn Morton
New Zealand's players perform the Haka before the rugby union Test match between Japan and New Zealands All Blacks at the National Stadium in Tokyo on October 29, 2022. (Photo by Philip FONG / AFP) (Photo by PHILIP FONG/AFP via Getty Images)

Rugby World Cup winner Mils Muliaina has warned the All Blacks that the Northern Hemisphere teams will be “vying for blood” throughout the spring tour.

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It was far from convincing, but the All Blacks survived a genuine scare against Japan to win 38-31 in Tokyo on Saturday.

After racing out to a commanding 21-3 lead in just over half an hour, New Zealand surrendered their dominance on the Test as the hosts scored two quick tries before the break.

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Tries to Caleb Clarke and Hoskins Sotutu seemed to have steadied things during the second half, before a red card to star lock Brodie Retallick swung the momentum back in Japan’s favour.

While the Brave Blossoms fell short of a historic result, it was certainly a wakeup call for Ian Foster’s men before travelling to Europe.

Speaking on The Breakdown, All Blacks centurion Muliaina said the next three weeks will be “tough” for New Zealand as they prepare to face Wales, Scotland and England.

“The good thing about what’s happened is we’ve won. They’ve been put under a bit of pressure, don’t get me wrong they’ve been put under a heap of pressure,” Muliaina said.

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“They have been resilient throughout this whole year in terms of stuff that’s happened off the field.

“It’s important now they go to Wales, which is going to be a very tough ask, and get everyone up to scratch and really try and fight for that momentum back.

“I think the big positive is you’ve ticked all those boxes in giving those guys game time. We now kick on, we reset, and we really try and hammer these next three weeks because it’s going to be tough.

“The Northern Hemisphere teams, they will be vying for blood.”

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Coach Ian Foster named a new-look midfield combination against Japan, with Roger Tuivasa-Sheck handed his first start in a black jersey.

Playing alongside Braydon Ennor, both players showed glimpses of potential throughout the match, with Tuivasa-Sheck having had the most carries of any player while Ennor crossed for a try.

But both midfielders have been released from their All Blacks duties for the time being, and will instead be available for the All Blacks XV.

As former Samoa international Taylah Johnson said about the All Blacks midfield, “it’s a real tough headache” with Anton Lienert-Brown having returned to the fold on Saturday.

“We had two people sitting on the bench, two midfielders essentially with Anton Lienert-Brown and David Havili,” Johnson said.

“I was really impressed with Anton Lienert-Brown when he came onto the field.

“Roger Tuivasa-Sheck, he had some really good touches and there was a lack of chemistry, and I don’t think someone like Braydon (Ennor) really cemented his spot there.

“The midfield has been a massive problem for the All Blacks. We’ve got so many skilled individuals but whether the combination (works), I don’t know who the right combination is there but it’s a real tough headache.”

Ian Foster will have some other major selection decisions to make over the coming days as well, with Retallick expected to find out today if his tour is over.

The All Blacks are set to take on Wales at Cardiff’s Principality Stadium this weekend, before facing Scotland at Murrayfield and England at Twickenham.

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