Wed 25 Aug 2021 | 09:49

Selection headaches for All Blacks coach

Selection headaches for All Blacks coach
Wed 25 Aug 2021 | 09:49
Selection headaches for All Blacks coach
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NEWS: The All Blacks are set to be without key players when they travel from New Zealand to Perth on Thursday ahead of next week’s rearranged Rugby Championship clash at Optus Stadium.

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Fresh after the announcement of his reappointment as All Blacks head coach through until the 2023 World Cup, Ian Foster confirmed that his side may be without interim captain Sam Whitelock and veteran scrumhalf Aaron Smith due to the imminent baby arrivals.

According to the New Zealand Herald, first-choice playmaker Richie Mo’unga is also understood to be in a similar position, meaning the All Blacks could be without three of their frontline players for a match that doubles as their third Bledisloe Cup fixture.

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That would mean the All Blacks will require a new captain for the Wallabies clash, to be played on either September 3 or 4, given Whitelock is already filling in for the injured Sam Cane.

Smith was handed the captaincy role for the first time in his Test career when Whitelock was benched for New Zealand’s win over Fiji in Dunedin last month, but he won’t be able to do so again should he miss the flight to Western Australia.

The only other player in the All Blacks squad with captaincy experience at international level is Beauden Barrett, who captained New Zealand against the Barbarians at Twickenham in 2017.

Barrett has found himself stuck on the bench for most of this season after being usurped by Mo’unga as New Zealand’s top option at No.10, and another appearance off the bench would significantly reduce Barrett’s captaincy chances for the Wallabies Test.

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However, with Mo’unga set to miss the upcoming Test, the two-time World Rugby Player of the Year could be handed just his second start at No.10 this season, with his last outing in the starting line-up coming against Fiji in Dunedin.

Elsewhere, loose forwards Ardie Savea and Dalton Papalii, scrumhalf TJ Perenara and Brad Weber, locks Brodie Retallick and Scott Barrett, midfielder Rieko Ioane, and hooker Codie Taylor all of have captaincy experience at Super Rugby level.

Savea, Taylor, Perenara, Retallick and Ioane may be considered the frontrunners out of that contingent given their strong standing in the All Blacks squad and likelihood of starting in Perth.

“I’ll have to confirm everything but it’s unlikely Sammy Whitelock for example and Aaron Smith potentially will be on the plane on Thursday,” Foster said. “We’ll confirm more of those details as I have them.”

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The Herald also reports that Scott Barrett is expecting the birth of his first child and, depending on the availability of MIQ [Managed isolation and quarantine] spots, could be one of the numerous players to return home early from the All Blacks’ lengthy stay away from home, which will last for more than three months.

Foster has already indicated that players who are injured or completing their return from injury will be left at home for this Test before linking up with the squad in Queensland later in the Rugby Championship campaign.

Those players include the likes of props Joe Moody and Ofa Tuungafasi, hooker Dane Coles and midfielder Braydon Ennor.

“We’ve had to replan and adapt. In terms of the squad size our goal was always going to be to take a slightly smaller squad over initially and then add to it through the programme,” Foster said.

“That was principally because we could have players back here playing NPC in the meantime before we brought them over. We’re also very cognisant that once they leave our shores they can’t come back.

“The last 48 hours we’ve been focusing on that. The squad will be in the mid-30s I’d say initially. We’ve got to look at some variables now.

“We’ve got to have players that have had two jabs before they get on a plane so that changes things. They’ve got to have a negative Covid test so everyone is running around doing that.”

@RugbyPass and NZ Herald

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