Coach Ian Foster admitted on Thursday that New Zealand’s set-piece play could be compromised by fielding a smaller, more mobile, forward pack after he brought in flank Dalton Papali’i as his only All Blacks change for the second Test against Ireland.
Foster praised the dynamic attributes of Papali’i, who replaces veteran lock Sam Whitelock and will win his 14th All Blacks cap on the blindside, with Scott Barrett moving to the second row for Saturday’s match in Dunedin.
“Dalton’s a tough rugby player. He’s physical in the tackle and he’s quick,” said Foster. “Remember, it’s a hard ground under a roof, so expect the game to be fast.”
Whitelock was ruled out after suffering delayed symptoms of concussion following last week’s 42-19 first Test win in Auckland.
Foster said his preference would have been to retain Barrett in the back row after the experimental selection worked well in a powerful pack display last week.
However, his hand was forced when another lock, Tupou Vaa’i, dropped from contention after testing positive for coronavirus, meaning Barrett has to revert to a more familiar role in the second row.
Another consequence is the back row that features Papali’i, captain Sam Cane and Ardie Savea, the outstanding player of the first Test – three players who have spent most of their careers as openside flanks.
With New Zealand having held the upper hand in the scrum and lineout at Eden Park, Foster accepted there was a chance their lighter pack could cede some of that advantage.
“It just gives us a different dynamic but clearly set piece will be a little bit affected,” Foster said. “It changes the way we have to go about it. Clearly, it’s not the same sort of mix but we have to be good enough to adapt to that.”
Foster has made four changes to his replacements, bringing in the uncapped pair of scrumhalf Folau Fakatava and prop Aidan Ross.
Outside back Will Jordan returns to the bench after missing the first Test due to a positive coronavirus test with lock Patrick Tuipulotu included after being recalled to the squad last week, fresh from a stint in Japan.
Tonga-born Fakatava, who is the backup to starting scrumhalf Aaron Smith at the Otago Highlanders, became eligible for the All Blacks earlier this year.
Foster said he was eager to see how the bench newcomers would perform but was reluctant to change his starting side, given their efforts in Auckland off the back of a build up disrupted by seven positive tests in the All Blacks camp.
“We felt that last week, we got some really good progress on some things that we want to achieve,” said Foster.
“The best way to cement some of that is to reward the effort and use the experience they had of playing against the Irish to try and grow.
“It felt like making too many changes right now might take us back a cog.”
New Zealand – 15 Jordie Barrett, 14 Sevu Reece, 13 Rieko Ioane, 12 Quinn Tupaea, 11 Leicester Fainga’anuku, 10 Beauden Barrett, 9 Aaron Smith, 8 Ardie Savea, 7 Sam Cane (c), 6 Dalton Papali’i, 5 Scott Barrett, 4 Brodie Retallick, 3 Ofa Tu’ungafasi, 2 Codie Taylor, 1 George Bower.
Subs: Samisoni Taukeiaho, Aidan Ross, Angus Ta’avao, Patrick Tuipulotu, Pita Gus Sowakula, Folau Fakatava, Richie Mo’unga, Will Jordan.
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