NZ Rugby World
ALL BLACKS WANT TO GET PHYSICAL
The scar of the All Blacks last defeat can clearly be seen running through the first selection made by new coach Ian Foster.
The All Blacks of 2020 have the look of a side that has decided that whatever else happens this year, they won't tolerate being beaten up by anyone.
The physical edge contained within the 35-man squad is obvious and Foster has put together one of the largest packs of the professional age.
He has picked a squad with such a heavy emphasis on size and physicality that it suggests he is going to rebuild the national team on the basis that the forwards must win the collisions and the backs avoid them.
The piano movers have been brought in en masse to allow the piano players to be able to better do their jobs.
It's a somewhat simple analysis of the squad that's been picked, but it also just about sums it up entirely.
The All Blacks were beaten up by England at the last World Cup and Foster doesn't want that to happen again. He doesn't want to lose the silky and creative touch of the team but nor does he want his All Blacks to never be able to show their imagination because they have been crushed at the collisions.
Nowhere is this physical emphasis more apparent than in the loose forwards, where in every tight call, he's gone with the bigger athlete.
In come Akira Ioane, Hoskins Sotutu, Dalton Papalii and Cullen Grace who saw off the smaller Lachlan Boshier, Tom Christie and Dillon Hunt.
With those four joining Sam Cane, Ardie Savea and Shannon Frizell the All Blacks now have a marauding, intimidating feel to their loose forwards which suggests that they will be tasked with making ownership of the gainline their top priority.
Assistant coach John Plumtree said as much when he said that the coaching panel had identified a need to find players who can generate momentum by nothing more elaborate than ploughing their way through the tackle.
It's a somewhat base demand, but valid nevertheless as test rugby, as much as it breaks the hearts of the romantics, is essentially a contest of muscularity first, creativity and imagination second.
Holes don't just appear in this age of rush defence and microscopic analysis and the sad truth is that the likes of Ireland, South Africa, England and Wales have been able to create world class rugby teams in the gym.
New Zealanders may not like the way test matches have been hijacked by the unimaginative. They may not like that resilience can often be the only quality required to win a game, but Foster doesn't want to be self-righteously preaching about the demise of running rugby as coach of the world's fifth best team.
He wants the All Blacks restored to the top of the order and to do that, there has to be an acceptance that he needs forwards capable and willing to graft and scrap on the gainline before they entertain any notion of showing what else they have got.
But the arrival of new, exciting outside backs Will Jordan and Caleb Clarke says that using hard won possession is going to be just as important.
Foster has brought in a total of seven new caps – Jordan, Clarke, Sotutu, Tupou Vaa'i, Grace, Quinten Strange and
He's also recalled Asafo Aumua and Akira Ioane who were both part of the 2017 tour to Europe but didn't win test caps.
The squad also retains the majority of those who were at the World Cup last year and are still available. The only players to miss out are Liam Coltman, Angus Ta'avao and Luke Jacobson.
Scott Barrett and Atu Moli are both injured and Foster emphasised that the former and Ngani Laumape will definitely join the squad once they have recovered from their respective injuries.