Reinforcements to reinvigorate high-flying All Blacks
Coach Ian Foster has the luxury of choice for rematch against Argentina
Melbourne — A New Zealand team that seemed full of doubt and disjointed during Ian Foster’s first year in charge now appear on the verge of something special as they look to welcome a slew of top-shelf reinforcements to their Rugby Championship campaign.
After thrashing Australia at Eden Park and Perth, the All Blacks further underlined their strength in depth with a 39-0 shutout of Argentina at Gold Coast on Sunday. They now lead the competition by five points after second-placed SA’s slip-up against Australia.
With about 10 first-choice players resting, injured or left home in New Zealand, the Brodie Retallick-captained All Blacks racked up five tries to banish memories of their shock defeat to the Pumas in the Tri-Nations in 2020. Players usually condemned to toiling on the fringes have savoured their moment in the limelight, with loose forwards Luke Jacobson and Dalton Papalii producing three tries between them.
Anton Lienert-Brown’s late withdrawal due to a hamstring strain was barely noticed as New Zealand’s “Mr Fix-it”, Rieko Ioane, slotted in at centre with aplomb.
Managing player workloads will be key for the All Blacks as they look to negotiate a quick turnaround before their rematch against Argentina in Brisbane on Saturday and the back-to-back Tests that follow against world champions SA.
However, Foster and selectors have the luxury of choice, with loose forward enforcer Ardie Savea and hooker Codie Taylor available for selection after head-knocks against Australia, along with fit-again props Ethan de Groot and Ofa Tuungafasi.
“We’ve got three physical Test matches coming up, with Argentina and then the Boks times two, so it’s going to be a tall order over the next three weeks,” assistant coach John Plumtree said on Monday. “We’re going to have to use our men to make sure going into those Boks games we’ve got plenty of energy.”
With Richie Mo’unga home in New Zealand, Beauden Barrett has relished his time in the No 10 jersey and his performance on Sunday revived memories of his halcyon days in 2016/2017, when he won back-to-back World Rugby Player of the Year awards.
His sparkling one-handed flick pass in the tackle to set up Jacobson’s first try was the highlight of a dominant night which was cut short in the 50th minute when he came off to rest a sore calf. All Blacks staff said it was nothing more than cramping, though Foster conceded it had troubled Barrett enough to give his fullback brother Jordie kicking duties off the tee.
Flyhalf is the only position where the All Blacks are light in their squad, so selectors face a delicate balancing act easing Barrett through the remaining matches.
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