All Blacks not out of Championship contention - Foster

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Coach Ian Foster said while the All Blacks had lost one Test, they were not out of contention.


He said no one had gone through the Championship winning six out of six games since 2017, and the All Blacks hadn't beaten South Africa twice since the same year.


"The challenge is still there. We're not out of anything. I know there's a lot of messaging that says we are, but we're not.


"We think this is a massive chance for us to go into a big ground, a massive occasion and, again, show that we are growing our game. And, that's our goal."


Despite criticism of his post-game remarks, Foster said there were clear areas of improvement achieved in the Mbombela Stadium loss.


However, in continuing to grow his squad, he has made four changes for Saturday with props Ethan de Groot and Tyrell Lomax starting, along with blindside flanker Shannon Frizell and first five-eighths Richie Mo'unga.


"Ethan and Tyrell both played well last week. They're both strong scrummagers. And, we're looking at a bit of a change-up, particularly with Fletcher Newell coming off the bench for his first Test and having Cody [Taylor] and George [Bower] alongside him in the second half, at a time that the South Africans have a big focus on the scrum.



"We dealt with their second half scrum well last week, and, with [Malcolm] Marx going back into his normal role off the bench, I'm confident we 've got good combinations in the second half as well."


Foster said he had been impressed with how Newell had come into the side off the back of an impressive Super Rugby season with the Crusaders.


"He's come in here and fitted in really comfortably. Last week he got a handle on how things operate, and I believe his skill set and enthusiasm are going to be great.


"It's a big test, Ellis Park for your first one, but this team's growing, we're trying to grow depth bringing in a few newer, younger players. The experiences we get now are going to be vital for us in the future. He's a big part of that."


Foster said starting Mo'unga had been of their plan and it was also a handy chance to ease the pressure on Barrett after his knock last week.


Mo'unga had impressed off the park and, he, Barrett and Stephen Perofeta, were working hard together.


"Beaudy's fit and ready to go, but it was a pretty significant issue he had to overcome last week with that tackle in the air, so it has given him a slightly easier flow into the start of the week," he said.


Frizell would bring a different kind of physicality to the blindside flank in starting, while Akira Ioane's skill set could take advantage of tired legs late in the game.


"It's a complementary-style type of selection."


Despite 30 per cent of the team not having played in South Africa, Foster didn't think the lack of exposure to playing at altitude in Super Rugby was a factor for the side.


Nelspruit for the first Test was at altitude, although not as high as Johannesburg.


"For those who haven't been here, it's probably on their mind, and we're just working on backing our fitness and backing our game, and we're going to need all 23 in our squad to get through the 80 minutes," he said.


With Springboks goal-kicker Handré Pollard putting over three penalty goals to keep the scoreboard ticking over in the second half, Foster said they had received apologies from refereeing authorities for some of the rulings, and the All Blacks were always trying to improve in areas penalised.


"We know that if you give away penalties around halfway or the 10-metre line, you know what they are going to do. They are going to kick into that space and go through their driving game.


"But, when you look at last week, while we gave them some opportunities I was really impressed with the way we defended that part of their game, so we'll take a lot of confidence from that, but we would [also] like to give them a few less entries into that zone."


Foster said they were also satisfied with clarification on protection for players involved in aerial contests.


"We've asked for our players in the air to get some protection from people knocking and colliding into them with one arm in the air and we've had good clarification about that, so we're very clear."


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