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'I won’t be protecting anyone': All Blacks dismiss 'cotton wool' for World Cup warm up

By Ned Lester
Nepo Laulala of New Zealand looks on 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)

Injuries have already changed the landscape of the Rugby World Cup, with France pivot Romain Ntamack the latest to be struck down in a warm-up clash with Scotland.

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As is the nature of the sport, there are no guarantees teams will survive their final warm-up games unscathed but that won’t stop Ian Foster from throwing out his top available talent in next weekend’s Twickenham test against the Springboks.

The All Blacks are in relatively good shape heading into the tournament, with short-term damage to lock Brodie Retallick and flanker Shannon Frizzel the only troubles in camp. In naming his 33-man squad, Foster has opted to take 18 forwards and 15 backs, leaving the reserve bench a little thin up front compared to the likes of the South Africans.

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Injury cover in the form of Josh Lord, Brad Weber and Samipeni Finau are travelling with the team but as per Rugby World Cup guidelines will train separately from the squad.

While some may consider fielding the top team in Twickenham too much of a risk, Foster has a clear and decisive view of how he’ll manage his players in the match.

“I won’t be protecting anyone,” he told reporters as the team left for Europe. “You don’t win World Cups by putting people in cotton wool.”

The All Blacks have winning momentum heading into the World Cup and are clearly looking to elevate that, something a win over the Springboks is sure to achieve.

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Just 12 months ago it would have been hard to imagine New Zealand being the bookies’ favourites to lift the Webb Ellis Cup in France, given the side had just lost a series to Ireland on home soil for the first time.

Pressure was mounted high on the shoulders of Foster, who decided to make some changes in his coaching staff as New Zealand Rugby reviewed his position and decided to back the coach through to the World Cup.

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The review was the result of Foster’s poor record at the time, which hovered around the record for the lowest All Blacks win percentage of the professional era.

But in hindsight, Foster finds the losses incurred crucial adversity to build his side’s character and resilience for what will be an incredibly competitive World Cup campaign.

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“I think it’s a well-tested group,” he stated. “It’s a group that I think has gone through a lot of adversity.

“In the past, we’ve gone into World Cups feeling where we get tested on adversity is at the World Cup and I think winning one out of seven away World Cups reflects that as a country.

“So, we have to be confident about we’ve gone through adversity, this group’s stayed tight, they’ve figured out, they’ve found solutions and I think they’re really growing in confidence around how they lead themselves on the park and how they play.”

Asked by one journalist whether he’ll take a moment on the flight to reflect on the journey of the past 12 months heading into his last World Cup, Foster quipped back with “Who said it’s my last?”

“Will I reflect on that? No, I won’t – there is too much to do now.

“We have a great occasion in front of us.

“The key with World Cups is you don’t want to waste a day.”

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