- By Kevin McCarthy
First test of the season Traditionally a time for armchair pundits to go out on a limb and make statements that will if later true, be recycled ad nauseam.
The other strategy, far safe but less fun, is to downplay the whole deal, cut a lot of slack, and wait for the first real match, the Bledisloe in August, before sharpening any knives.
Ian Foster can clearly field any side he wants and come away with results against Tonga, and twice against Fiji. So, he first side is the dreaded blend of experience and inexperience, with a lot of bench backup.
Even with the latitude allowed, of course there are talking points,
Beauden Barrett can hardly be surprised to not be first-five. You can’t have an out clause to go to Japan and not expect to pay some sort of price. It’s why grizzled old All Blacks would play through injury in the fear that once they gave up a start to a young buck, that was it.
He and brother Jordie might be surprised that they are considered to be the second or third, or third and second, best fullbacks, behind D-Mac.
Jordie probably won’t be surprised that he is there in fact as the bench utility and midfield cover. Foster said they know where they want Jordie to play long-term. He then seemingly did not specify where that was. So probably fullback . . . for Toulouse.
Then it always comes back to the midfield doesn’t it. With injury woes, Foster has thrown in rookie Quinn Tupaea, and the jury-is-out-as-a-centre Reiko Ioane.
What Foster would give to be able to pick a battle-hardened player at this point. I haven’t got anyone in mind, but if I did, currently they are taking a crash course in French and sorting out Crown Removals.
Anyway, all good, I’m sure midfield will be sorted by the time of the next world cup, as is traditional.
Too much talk about the backs though. In the end can this All Black side start rebuilding a strong pack. Because the clock is ticking on Whitelock and Retallick – as one area of concern.
It will be refreshing to see how the loose trio of Papalii, Ioane and Jacobson go as a unit. Plenty of talent across them and others, but in the end, Foster will have to come up with a go-to group until Sam Cane comes back.
If anyone is too miffed about not being picked yet, then its worth remembering there will be casualties in these first three games. If you haven’t got a rifle, don’t worry – there will be one coming free pretty soon.
I am finding it hard to lift my horizons to later in the season. Will the schedule as mapped out actually happen? Covid-19 surely will have some pernicious say on that, and you’d have to suspect it will revolve around South Africa and its participation.
The British and Irish Lions will fairly soon be the guinea pig for a big tour in the Republic. What a shame that the huge contingent of travelling fans – who were such a big feature when they came here – won’t be able to make the trip.
When you contemplate all the things that might go off the rails, then you’d have to feel sorry for Ian Foster if his second season gets upended once more.