The Press

Fos­ter’s lineup must de­liver to fend off ques­tions

- Richard Knowler richard.knowler@stuff.co.nz Sports · Rugby · Rugby Union · New Zealand national rugby union team · Argentina · Australia · Australia national football team · Newcastle United Football Club · Beauden Barrett · New Zealand · Japan · British & Irish Lions · Warren Gatland · Sam Whitelock · Patrick Tuipulotu · Ardie Savea

Ian Fos­ter can’t rely solely on his vet­er­ans to get the All Blacks out of this hole. To do so would be a grave er­ror from a coach un­der enor­mous pres­sure fol­low­ing con­sec­u­tive de­feats to Ar­gentina and Aus­tralia dur­ing the Tri Na­tions tour­na­ment.

Fos­ter shouldn’t even have to ask the men who start against Ar­gentina in New­cas­tle on Satur­day night, whether it be skip­per Sam Cane or the least ex­pe­ri­enced player on the bench, to be primed for the test at McDon­ald Jones Sta­dium.

If he’s re­quired to spell out what’s at stake, Fos­ter may as well throw his lap­top in a char­ity bin and in­struct the bus driver to change di­rec­tion and un­load his pas­sen­gers at the near­est beach.

The team is named today and you can be guar­an­teed Cane won’t be tak­ing an in­ex­pe­ri­enced crew into this scrap; Sam White­lock has played 121 tests, his lock part­ner Pa­trick Tuip­u­lotu has 34 caps, hooker Dane Coles has made 73 ap­pear­ances and loose­head prop Joe Moody will make his 50th ap­pear­ance for his coun­try.

Back rower Ardie Savea (48), half­back Aaron Smith (96), mid­fielder An­ton Lienert-Brown

(48) and full­back Beau­den Bar­rett (87) also pro­vide a big chunk of in­tel­lec­tual prop­erty.

Plenty of tal­ent there, then, to help lift the All Blacks if they get pinned down by the Pu­mas. Or so you would like to think. But those play­ers couldn’t pre­vent a

25-15 loss to the South Amer­i­cans in Syd­ney on Novem­ber 14.

Nei­ther could the less ex­pe­ri­enced play­ers, for that mat­ter. They can’t af­ford to hiber­nate. No ex­cuses.

Rookie Caleb Clarke’s power and en­thu­si­asm on the left wing is vi­tal, but if he isn’t given pos­ses­sion in space – and it would be coun­ter­pro­duc­tive for those in­side him to run side­ways in their haste to give him the pill – hemay as well be re­placed by a gar­den gnome.

Mid­fielder Jack Good­hue’s tal­ent has never been in doubt, al­though the shift to No 12 has co­in­cided with him be­ing less ef­fec­tive than when he started at cen­tre un­der pre­vi­ous head coach Sir Steve Hansen.

First five-eighth Richie Mo’unga is the key. His 23-point con­tri­bu­tion dur­ing the 43-5 dis­man­tling of Aus­tralia in Syd­ney on Oc­to­ber 31 con­firmed his class and abil­ity, yet he was in­ef­fec­tive against the Pu­mas’ smoth­er­ing de­fence; as Hansen liked to say, the No 10 is the ‘‘com­puter’’ that makes the net­work tick over, but there will be prob­lems if it cuts out.

A vic­tory, prefer­ably a com­pre­hen­sive one, in the sea­son fi­nale is the only thing that can pro­tect Fos­ter and stave off in­evitable ques­tions about him re­main­ing head coach in

2021.

A de­feat would be cat­a­strophic not just for him. It would also be a blow for Cane, leav­ing him with a dis­mal record of just two wins from six games in his first sea­son as skip­per.

A loss would, surely, force NZ Rugby to launch a foren­sic in­ves­ti­ga­tion and ask why the All Blacks have been un­able to re­gain their swag­ger af­ter the fail­ure to re­tain the Webb El­lis Cup in Ja­pan last year.

Fol­low­ing the loss to the Pu­mas, Fos­ter and Cane have had two weeks to im­ple­ment and road-test a game plan, as well as an­a­lyse their op­po­nents and dream up ways to drill through their de­fen­sive line.

Fos­ter should ex­pect his match-day 23 to pre­pare as if this is aWorld Cup fi­nal; there’s only one way to heal the wounds from the first-ever loss to the Pu­mas, and two weeks mulling back-to­back de­feats dur­ing the quar­an­tine pe­riod in New Zealand would be tor­ture.

Re­mem­ber, four years ago Bri­tish and Ir­ish Li­ons coach War­ren Gat­land told an Ir­ish news­pa­per that ‘‘any­one’’ in New Zealand could coach the All Blacks and be ‘‘guar­an­teed’’ an

85 per cent suc­cess rate’’. Gat­land’s com­ments, which could have been in­ter­preted as be­ing a cheeky dig at Hansen be­fore the Li­ons toured New Zealand in 2017, came at a time when the All Blacks had won 18 games straight.

‘‘So it’s not a bad team to be in­volved with,’’ Gat­land said.

It’s hardly a breeze when the team is los­ing, though. Just ask Fos­ter.

 ??  ?? All Blacks coach Ian Fos­ter, left, and cap­tain SamCane both badly need a win this week­end.
All Blacks coach Ian Fos­ter, left, and cap­tain SamCane both badly need a win this week­end.
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