Tonga the first step in All Blacks’ intense 2021 schedule

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All Blacks hooker Codie Taylor said it was important to put a base down in the Steinlager Series against Tonga and in their two Tests against Fiji.

It was one of their most intensive programmes in recent times, with nine Tests to be played at home and at least five offshore.

It was also important for new players introduced to the squad to quickly absorb the demands of Test rugby to grow into their game at a higher level.

"This series is huge. It's a big stepping stone for what's to come around The Rugby Championship with South Africa back in that.

"At the moment, they're the best in the world, so our goal is to be No1, so we get an opportunity to hopefully play those boys.

"In Australia, Argentina tipped us over last year, so I think this first series is going to go a long way in giving those boys confidence. And also gives us a chance to make sure we're all gelling as a team because that Rugby Championship is going to be pretty tough," he said.

Tonga's recent form was a little unknown.

"We haven't played them in a couple of years. I think they'll be pretty excited given the whole cultural aspect of what this weekend is about - joining a mix of cultures that were pretty much one a few hundred years ago.

"It's going to be a cool spectacle for fans and, hopefully, a chance for everyone to come down and watch some good footy," Taylor said.

The All Blacks had enjoyed gaining more of an understanding of the Samoan and Tongan communities when involved in activities in South Auckland during their first camp of the season last week, he said.

Taylor said he came into the season having wanted to change some things in his game, and he felt that was a worthwhile exercise. His work mainly related to strength and conditioning and some areas he wanted to develop in 2021.

"It all starts again now, All Black footy is a step up," he said.

The difference in intensity between Super Rugby training and that of the All Blacks was immediately apparent when they came together for the first time last week.

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