Tonga to test All Blacks' coping strategies

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Learning to cope with the different things sides could throw at you at a Rugby World Cup would be a key part of the All Blacks' Test with Tonga in Hamilton on Saturday.


Assistant coach Ian Foster said: "One of the beauties of the World Cup is suddenly you're playing teams like Namibia, Canada that you're not quite used to playing and different things are thrown at us, so this game is great preparation from that perspective."


Having seen Tonga play in the Pacific Nations, and the Pasifika Challenge at the weekend, they were a reasonably structured team and had several New Zealand or overseas-based players in their side.


"They've got their traditional physicality and I don't think that's ever going to change with the Tongans and that's a great part of their game but I think our job is to try to stress them so that they do start to act as individuals. We've got to make sure we force them into those decisions.


"That's what we'll be trying to do whereas if they connect and stay strong for large parts of that Fiji game, and Fiji is a very good team at the moment Tonga really dominated possession and dominated the ball-carry and couldn't quite score the tries.


"They're a team on the rise. They're getting ready for a World Cup and I'm sure they've targeted this as a game they'll try to get a lot more continuity and flow in their games. It's good preparation for a World Cup," he said.


The All Blacks would be looking to put a strong team on the field.


"We've already flagged we're not going to go into this game trying to protect people. This game's going to be important for us for the World Cup. We need to to make sure we take some gains from our last Test together where we showed some big improvements.


"We'll go through the same process but we're not going to put guys in cotton wool. If they're not quite right we'll do what we always do and put them on the sideline," he said.


Injured first five-eighths Richie Mo'unga had been on a reduced load with his shoulder injury and while it wasn't perfect yet, he wasn't far away, Foster said.


Otago's Josh Ioane had been called into the squad as cover without any guarantee he would play but there would be longer-term benefits should he be required at the World Cup as a replacement.


"There're positives if he does get a chance to get on. But we don't think we tick boxes, we're making the best decisions that we can each week based on a Test match. Just because someone's here doesn't guarantee them anything.


"So if someone's here training hard and hasn't got a lot of game time, then the pressure's on them to learn in other ways. That's the value of putting so much pressure on our training week," he said.


"He's had three or four weeks with us during the Rugby Championship that our expectations are that he's got a really good handle of how things go.


Foster said Ioane was desperate to learn and that was a quality the management liked about him.


"He's got some good guys to learn from with Beaudy [Beauden Barrett] and Richie [Mo'unga] and he's tapped into that resource really well but again he's just got to make sure, we checked him in today at training and gave him a good run around to get him to have a good feel of it so the more time in there the better," he said.


Centre Jack Goodhue was able to complete straight line running in recovering from his hamstring but hadn't been able to aggressively change direction.


Ryan Crotty, having missed the Investec Rugby Championship, was delighted to be in the World Cup squad, and was a little behind in game time but had been very professional off the park and had come through 40 minutes with Canterbury at the weekend well.


"He's very keen, very enthusiastic man at the moment," he said.


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