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All Blacks minimise changes and coach Foster has his say on concussion controversy

New Zealand have ruled Sam Whitelock out for 12 days but Ireland captain Johnny Sexton is free to play in Saturday’s second test in Dunedin.

Sam Whitelock has been ruled out of the test.
Sam Whitelock has been ruled out of the test.
Image: Photosport/Marty Melville/INPHO

IAN FOSTER, THE coach of the All Blacks, has made just two adjustments to the team that won last Saturday’s opening test of this summer series, with Damian Papalii coming into the starting XV and Scott Barrett relocating from blindside flanker to his preferred role in the second row.

It means the New Zealand backline remains the same as we saw in Eden Park, even though Will Jordan is available once again after a week in isolation on the back of his positive Covid result.

It isn’t the only thing that doesn’t change. Concussion – one of the biggest talking points in world rugby right now – crept up in conversation yet again this morning, as Foster was asked to explain why his highly regarded lock, Sam Whitelock, is out for 12 days whereas Irish captain, Johnny Sexton, is available to play.

“I can’t answer that question from their perspective because I don’t know the circumstances,” said Foster.

The situation is that Sexton failed his HIA1 (head injury assessment) test last Saturday which forced Ireland into making a first-half substitution but they are now free to select him for the second test here in Dunedin as he has passed his subsequent two HIA tests.

“From our perspective with regard to Sammy, the protocols are crystal clear,” said Foster. “If it looks like you have taken a knock and then you fail a HIA, you go to a 12-day programme. That’s pretty crystal clear to us. Those protocols, that we are trying to abide by, are pretty simple and clear to understand.”

Whitelock’s loss is a significant one for the All Blacks, one that Ronan O’Gara has written about in today’s Irish Examiner, with the La Rochelle coach and former Ireland out-half suggesting that Whitelock is worth 10 to 15 points to his team.

In his absence, two genuine stars fill the void, Scott Barrett and Brodie Retallick.

When the latter was asked about O’Gara’s assessment, he replied: “I will answer that on Saturday after the game.”

Each second row – Retallick and Whitelock – had fine games last weekend, disrupting Ireland’s lineout at key stages of the evening. “Not too bad,” was Retallick’s response to their performance.

“We obviously know it is a starter for them where we try and build things off the back of their lineout; we are really trying to put some pressure on them in the air there. It’s a challenge (off our own ball) with Peter (O’Mahony) there (defending) at six so we’ve just got to chuck it a bit higher.”

The big man has had his ups and downs against Ireland, missing the 2016 game in Chicago, returning to win handsomely two weeks later. If 2018 in Dublin was a low point, 2019 in the World Cup was a high one, New Zealand winning that second game comfortably. He was there again when Ireland outplayed the All Blacks in Dublin last year.

“When they build some momentum – especially around their ball carriers, carrying on top of the gainline, you need to stop it because once that happens, they’ve Johnny (Sexton) in the backs and once they throw it out, they can turn you. Once you give them too much momentum that is when they really get their game going.”

Foster too has been impressed by Ireland’s evolution as a team across the last decade, describing them as a ‘smart’ rugby team who have ‘got a pretty good understanding of what they want to achieve’.

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“Their clarity of roles and their intentions and how they move collectively as a group is probably their best strength. That makes them a hard team to break down. I’m pretty sure they didn’t enjoy last week in terms of the result but I know they are a smart rugby team and they’ll come back strong.”

The danger is the All Blacks will come back stronger. In Dalton Papalii, they have one of the form players from this year’s Super Rugby. Essentially an openside, his relocation to blindside came yesterday with a health warning to the Irish pack.

“The role of a six, in my opinion, is more of a hitman, so I have just got to try and smack someone early on,” he said. “I’m going to add my favour to the jersey early on, go out there and do my job. I’ve got to do that first and then maybe get a few hits like Guzzler (Retallick) does.”

All Blacks v Ireland (Saturday, 8.05am kick off, Sky Sports)

1 George Bower (12)
2 Codie Taylor (67)
3 Ofa Tu’ungafasi (45)
4 Brodie Retallick (93)
5 Scott Barrett (49)
6 Dalton Papalii (13)
7 Sam Cane (78) Captain
8 Ardie Savea (60)
9 Aaron Smith (103)
10 Beauden Barrett (102)
11 Leicester Fainga’anuku (1)
12 Quinn Tupaea (8)
13 Rieko Ioane (48)
14 Sevu Reece (18)
15 Jordie Barrett (37)

Replacements

16 Samisoni Taukei’aho (10)
17 Aidan Ross* (0)
18 Angus Ta’avao (21)
19 Patrick Tuipulotu (41)
20 Pita Gus Sowakula (1)
21 Folau Fakatava* (0)
22 Richie Mo’unga (33)
23 Will Jordan (13)

About the author:

Garry Doyle  / reports from Dunedin

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