All Blacks ready for ‘hungry’ Fiji side - Foster

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Smith is on the brink of playing 100 Tests for the side, Saturday being his 98th appearance.

All Blacks coach Ian Foster said Smith had earned the choice of captain. He was a big part of the team's leadership group, and he had become outstanding in his preparation for Test matches.

While there was an element of reward in his appointment, the selectors had watched his leadership of the Highlanders in Super Rugby, and he had done that well, Foster said.

The venue had not been a factor in the decision, it had always been the selectors' intention, Foster said. But he felt if the appointment needed to be any more special then that would contribute.

Lock Brodie Retallick will resume his 81-Test career after his two seasons in Japan. Foster said they had held him back following his quarantine and the training he had to do on his own, but he was jumping out of his skin to get back on the field.

Ethan Blackadder's selection at openside flanker had always been an option in the selectors' minds when choosing the squad, and the opportunity had presented itself with Dalton Papalii having calf muscle issues and Ardie Savea still recovering from his knee injury.

They liked what they had seen of him in the position, he liked being around the ball, and he brought physicality to the contests at the breakdowns.

"He's thriving at the moment and I'm looking forward to seeing how he goes," he said.

Prop George Bower's starting role was a reflection of his play against Tonga. He showed the benefits of six kilograms the coaches wanted him to put on to improve his performance in the contact areas, and he was used to playing at that weight now.

Fiji had endured a tough time, especially in Europe late last year, and while they were in quarantine, they had spent a lot of time together, and unlike Tonga, they had key players back from Europe for the Tests.

"They've got a lot of quality players in that European competition. They're a growing team, I think we saw that in 2019 when they really pushed Australia and Wales. They can play, and probably what they are lacking is time together, but the last two weeks, they've still been able to train pretty efficiently.

"We're expecting a lot of big, strong ball carries, they run fast and hard and I would say being under the roof is something they're pretty excited about," he said.

Fiji would be hungry because everyone was excited to be playing Test rugby again, and that would probably apply more to Fiji than other sides.

"They haven't had a lot of opportunities, they've got a lot of battle-hardened athletes that are used to the week-in, week-out, this year, of European rugby so the chance to play two Tests here will be exciting for them. They will relish the chance to show some of their skill sets. They can be a very skilful team if we let them," he said.

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