To continue build depth in his 38-man squad, or to revert back to his strongest possible side for this weekend’s clash against Argentina?
That’s the dilemma currently facing All Blacks head coach Ian Foster after his side was shocked by the Wallabies in a 24-22 defeat in Brisbane last Saturday.
The loss came in a dead rubber Bledisloe Cup fixture, with the trophy already won by New Zealand the week beforehand in Sydney, leading Foster to ring a total of 10 changes to their starting lineup.
Among the changes was Beauden Barrett being reinstated at first-five in place of the previous week’s man-of-the-match Richie Mo’unga, with younger brother Jordie Barrett moved from the wing to fullback.
Ngani Laumape was handed a start at second-five as Jack Goodhue was rested, while Rieko Ioane and Sevu Reece formed a fresh wing pairing.
Elsewhere, star halfback Aaron Smith was rested to accomodate for TJ Perenara’s promotion to the starting team, and the forward pack experienced four alterations, with Codie Taylor, Scott Barrett, Akira Ioane and Ardie Savea the new faces.
Ioane was also one of four debutants alongside reserves Asafo Aumua, Cullen Grace and Will Jordan, all of whom made up a new-look bench that featured six new players from the previous week’s 43-5 shellacking of the Wallabies in Sydney.
With nothing but pride and Tri-Nations points on the line, Foster’s selection overhaul came back to bite him, as did his side’s ill-discipline, with Ofa Tuungafasi sent from the field and Scott Barrett sin binned for various infringements.
Whether or not those players and their teammates will be culled for the Argentina test remains to be seen, but Crusaders halfback Bryn Hall believes Foster will continue to utilise the full depth of his squad against the Pumas in Sydney on Saturday.
“I think you’ll see a continuation of guys getting opportunities,” the four-time Super Rugby champion told the Aotearoa Rugby Pod.
Another year, another Bledisloe Cup success for the All Blacks, but who flourished and who floundered in this year's trans-Tasman series?https://t.co/HhASX27Sod
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“It’s not going to be disrespecting them [Argentina], but there’s not many test matches this year, going into next year, so you need to be able to give your whole squad an opportunity to play footy.
“The expectation is it doesn’t matter if you’ve played a couple of test matches or if you’ve played just one test match, your job is to go in there and to perform well.
“So, I think you’ll see a continuation of the squad changing up a little bit and giving guys opportunities.”
Hall’s North Harbour teammate and fellow Aotearoa Rugby Pod panellist James Parsons offered an alternative view, suggesting that this week’s All Blacks side will be picked on form from the past fortnight given most players have now had game time.
“I think you’ll see them continue to pick on form. I think those guys that were picked and were given ‘an opportunity’ were in form in Super Rugby Aotearoa, and they deserve that opportunity through performance,” the two-test All Blacks hooker said.
“They will now be judged on their performance on the weekend, and the team will be picked accordingly from that, and from the week prior.
“They’ve rewarded form, and they’ve rewarded guys that have put runs on the board, to use a cricket analogy, and I think that’ll be seen in this week’s team.”
Parsons name dropped Blues teammate Akira Ioane as a strong candidate to retain his place in the starting side after impressing in a variety of aspects despite having only played for 25 minutes due to Tuungafasi’s red card.
Highlighted Ioane as one of the test rookies who had made the most of the opportunity handed to him on the back of a standout Super Rugby campaign, Parsons wasn’t sold on some of the other fringe players that took to the field in Brisbane.
“There was so much time between the reason they were picked in the squad before they could play, so they were rewarded for the form they had to get in the squad,” he said of those who had earned their places in the All Blacks through Super Rugby.
“Now they’ve had their lick, so someone like Aki [Ioane], I believe, gets another crack because he performed very well. Others might not, and the other guys will come back into that selection decision.”
Sam Whitelock, who was the victim of a clumsy shot by Wallabies rookie Lachie Swinton, has rejected calls for changes to the high tackle framework, saying it's players who need to adjust. #AUSvNZL #BledisloeCup #TriNations https://t.co/KP6AUxSJVr
— RugbyPass (@RugbyPass) November 10, 2020
Of those other guys could be Mo’unga, who played a starring role in New Zealand’s win over Australia at ANZ Stadium two weeks ago.
Working in tandem with fullback Beauden Barrett, the Crusaders pivot shone at first-five as part of a dual playmaker system.
By comparison, Barrett couldn’t influence the game nearly as much when handed the No. 10 jersey last week, with the dual playmaker scheme impacted by the selection of Jordie Barrett at fullback.
When asked on how the Barrett brothers performed in that system in contrast to how Beauden and Mo’unga have played together this season, Parsons said the two pairings were incomparable because of the yellow and red cards.
“Let’s be clear, they [Beauden and Jordie] weren’t given a platform like a week before, so it’s hard to judge,” he told the Aotearoa Rugby Pod.
“I don’t think you can judge Jordie or Beaudy because the early red card, the platform and the organisation – to lose a forward, it does play with your attacking shape, defensive shape, certain areas of the lineout play, ruck play.
“Five of the nine tries that the All Blacks have scored have come from a lineout, and we couldn’t clinch that lineout before halftime, and I think that just shows that there was just a little bit of clunkiness and not the platform provided that we’ve seen in past weeks to judge them fairly.”
Hall agreed with that sentiment, but was strong in his belief that a return to the Mo’unga-Barrett playmaking combination, with Jordie shifting back to the right wing, is the most feasible option this week.
“I thought Beaudy and Jordie, when they were having good touches, they were good,” Hall said.
“They were penetrating the line. Beaudy, in that first 20-minute stanza when we had a lot of ball, was attacking the line and Jordie was in and around that position as well.
“But, I think we probably will see Richie slot back in there and probably put Beaudy back to fullback with Jordie on the right-hand wing.”
Listen to the full episode of the Aotearoa Rugby Pod below:
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