If changes made to the All Blacks squad named ahead of the Tri-Nations test are to allow for player rotation, that is one thing. If not then it must be for experimentation’s sake.
That, in itself, is not an alien tactic for rugby teams. The Wallabies are themselves experimenting to a degree, yet the situations are different. The home side was already needing to both rebuild and to bring in raw talent. The visitors do not. So why has head coach Ian Foster taken this strategy?
In making a number of changes to the squad, Foster explained in an All Blacks media release, “we’ve been really delighted with the whole squad, so we feel that there are some players who are really putting their hand up and deserve an opportunity. Secondly, it’s been a big three-week Test series to date against Australia; it’ll be another massive Test, so we’ve brought in some freshness and new energy into the group.
“Players are jumping out of their skins to get onto the park.”
Some say Experimentation, others say All Blacks Squad Rotation
Four players have been named in a Test team for the first time. In an eagerly-awaited Test debut, loose forward Akira Ioane, who first pulled on the black jersey in a non-Test on the All Blacks’ 2017 Northern Hemisphere tour, will start in the six jersey.
Hooker Asafo Aumua (see main photo), who also played two non-Tests on the same tour, is also set to make his Test debut from the bench alongside two 2020 All Blacks, 20-year-old loose forward Cullen Grace, and 22-year-old outside back Will Jordan.
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The last of Bledisloe Cup games, it does not hold any balance in the ownership of that trophy yet for reasons other than any lack of ‘bragging rights’ the Tri-Nations is still at stake. So something is still on the line yet at this stage, the new All Blacks management determined the time for change was right.
A time to rest men like Aaron Smith and Caleb Clarke, release Dane Coles and Shannon Frizell so that others can be given their opportunity. An important aspect whenever debutants are named are the men stepping away to make room. Smith needed the rest after prolonged use, as did Richie Mo’unga especially, who has played more minutes than any other player. So rotation is one clear reason to bring in the livewire players; Aumua and the poorly utilized Brad Weber.
Damian McKenzie this time will come in from the bench and in terms of his role upcoming in Brisbane, it must be seen as first-five cover. Even while TJ Perenara has experience with the Hurricanes at pivot, it seems that McKenzie is seen as the third choice number 10 when Mo’unga takes a weekend off.
Those key positions where experience can be brought in from the bench are ‘power positions’ for New Zealand. Whereas for Australia, experimentation with Reece Hodge at first-five, is more questionable. Their depth from the bench might be similar it just does not have the same consolidated group.
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So in ways, the All Blacks have less to lose so now so can afford the selections which Dave Rennie is being ‘forced’ to do.
And there is the difference described previously. All Blacks squad rotation is, on one hand, necessary but, this degree of experimentation, after securing the Bledisloe Cup, is acceptable when you balance it against their opposition. Showing that New Zealand is still in the ascending role. Whatever they say, it seems to work well, and it should work this weekend.
Note: due to state travel restrictions, the All Blacks remain in Sydney, and will travel in and out of Queensland on the same day to meet Covid-19 health advisories.
Australia v New Zealand – Saturday, 7:45 pm (Aus). Suncorp Stadium
“Main photo credit”
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