All Blacks look to develop attacking game

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All Blacks coach Ian Foster said having achieved an improvement in their forward play last year, they were ready to take the next step.  While they were favoured to dominate both Tonga on Saturday and Manu Samoa on the next two weekends, the series had its advantages for the side.

Tonga, due to their lack of recent games, was an unknown factor.

"The beauty of these games is that you are asking your players to react to what is in front of them," he said.

"It's almost like learning a new skill set from Super Rugby where you have a full analysis of your opposition and where you can build a great profile. We're just going to have to react and be really good at seeing pictures that perhaps we didn't expect."

The campaign did allow them to have a build-up this year, compared to starting cold in the Covid-disrupted 2020 season. It was also a massive chance to support the South Pacific nations, and the All Blacks were passionate about playing them.

"We went out to work hard on our forward play last year and our defensive line speed. We didn't change everything because we had such a short window and, ironically, [we were] pretty pleased with where we got there. Our driving play, our lineout-play improved dramatically, so we've got to continue that.

"But we have got an opportunity now to grow some of the nuances of our attack," he said.

"Our goal is to be No1. That's where we want the All Blacks to be so this is our first Test…I just want to see an All Black team that goes out with a lot of passion in terms of how it plays," he said.

They had slipped in the past few years in executing their micro-skills so, the quality of their tackle and catch-pass were key components heading into the series.

The All Blacks hadn't been No1 since before the 2019 Rugby World Cup.

Foster said the selectors were aware of workloads during the Super Rugby season and took that into account in making their selection.

"We've got three Tests ahead and we've got guys we feel are going to bring a lot of energy to this one," he said.

Richie Mo'unga was given the start in the first five-eighths position because he had played in the intensity of the New Zealand competitions. They were aware of Beauden Barrett's form in Japan, but there was a lift from that up to Test level, and he would have another week before the selectors' next assessment.

Quinn Tupaea's debut at second five-eighths, especially coming out of the Maori All Blacks camp, was a reminder to all players that the door was always open.

"He knows what he's good at, he knows his strengths. He doesn't hesitate with his carry, he's instinctive creating play with his contact work.

"We've been delighted with him. He's come in and trained well. David's [Havili] had a calf for the last three weeks, and we've got a chance to give him another week of confidence. He's been out of the camp for four years and I really want him, when it is his time, to be jumping out of his skin with total belief in his body," he said.

In selecting the loose forward combination of Dalton Papalii (openside), Akira Ioane (blindside) and Luke Jacobson (No8), with Ethan Blackadder likely to debut from the bench, Foster said Ioane was the incumbent from their last Test. They were keen to see how he measured up this year after a mixed Super Rugby campaign.

He had some positive signs in his play, and he finished the Blues campaign stronger, so the Test was a good chance for him to put a marker down.

"Dalton, I think, has been one of the form loose forwards in the country and deserves it and, in Luke's case, I think it is the same story. We all know he's a bit of a tale of adversity the last couple of years, but, gee, he has come back and played well this year. I love that he's put his hand up and demanded selection.

"I'm excited with what he brings at the contact point, he's good with his feet, and has good continuity," he said.

Blackadder offered positional flexibility cover between the open and blindsides, he said.

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