All Blacks look to improve physical presence in 2022 - Plumtree

That was the summation of assistant All Blacks coach John Plumtree at the squad announcement to prepare to play Ireland next month.


"We know we've got the skill, we know we've got the power but our physicality is going to have to go up a couple of notches this year," he said.


Traditional speed and skills would continue to be worked on, but the All Blacks pack had the onus to get momentum and quality ball for their backs.


"That's our job, we've got to be able to get across the advantage line and consistently build pressure," he said.


Plumtree said the selectors were excited about one of the players selected to do that, No8 Pita Gus Sowakula.


"He's an experienced campaigner, he's been around for a little bit, but I think this year, more particularly, we've seen him play more consistently.


"At the start of Super Rugby he was unbelievable. We've loved what he can bring to a game through his power.


"In international rugby momentum is hard to find, especially when defence is so flat. Pita Gus is one guy who can certainly dent a d[defence]-line, so we're pretty happy with him," he said.

However, one of the victims of Sowakula's promotion was his team-mate Luke Jacobson. Jacobson's versatility may have counted against him as preferred players Ardie Savea and Dalton Papalii could do that.


"It was just really the mix of the loose forwards but Luke's there, and there only has to be an injury or two and we'd be going to him I guess. But it was tough to leave him out, he's been playing consistently well," he said.


Having such depth in New Zealand's loose forwards meant there was always someone who missed out. All five No8s in the Super Rugby teams had been good, so it required tough decisions.


Plumtree said loosehead prop Ethan de Groot would be disappointed with missing out, but he hadn't performed to the level the selectors wanted.


"He's trying hard but we just feel right now he's not quite there but he's got time. There's 13 Tests this year so he knows what he needs to do. There's plenty of communication from us to him from Fozzy [coach Ian Foster] and [scrum coach] Greg Feek and I'm sure he'll get back into the side," he said.


Hooker Dane Coles had struggled to play this year, but Plumtree  saw signs, in the last three or four weeks, of the old Dane Coles were emerging.


"He's changed a few things that he does in his week around his gym work and stuff that has worked for him, and I saw a bounce in his step in his last couple of games for the Hurricanes.


"We need his experience, and passion for this team, leadership, so he's good to go," he said.


With all the discussion on tackle heights, Plumtree said he had heard the comments on rulings during Super Rugby. The issues of ensuring discipline in those areas would be part of the All Blacks preparation ahead of the Ireland series.


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