Unfinished business for All Blacks in Test clash against England

Head coach Ian Foster downplays effect of Yokohama defeat to England three years ago

It has been three years since England beat New Zealand 19-7 in Yokohama, and this Saturday’s game is the first time they have played against each other since. All Blacks head coach Ian Foster says they have moved on from the loss, but you imagine the players involved still feel the sting of that defeat and will be using the memory of it this week. “I’m sure it will be mentioned, but I don’t think it’s relevant to where we’re at now,” said Foster.

England might disagree. The win was a high-water mark for Jones’s team. They played at a level they haven’t since reached, that match is an increasingly distant reminder of what they’re capable of.

“We know they are a team that’s searching for consistency,” said Foster. So are his All Blacks. They may have won six in a row, but they’ve already lost four Tests this year, a fifth defeat would make it their worst season this century and he would be back under pressure again.

“We’re in a good space, I like where our game is going,” said Foster. He thinks the team have moved on from their bumpy run in the summer. “We’ve had a plan to grow some options, cement some combinations, and change some things in our game, so if I look where we’ve got to in the last three or four weeks, we’re pretty delighted. But we’re playing a different type of team this week to the last two. England want to play a strong pressure game, they squeeze your game, so the challenge for us is to make sure we don’t go into our shell.”


Strongest squad

Foster has picked his strongest squad for it. Richie Mo’unga is in at flyhalf so Beauden Barrett switches to full-back, while his younger brother Jordie is back in the centre with Rieko Ioane. It is more like the All Black side that put Wales away 55-23 than the one that scraped past Scotland 31-23. “Beaudie brings an extra width to our game,” said Foster. “So last week our number 10 felt a little bit isolated because the outside backs weren’t communicating as well as they should have. Beaudie seems to improve that area when he goes in at 15.”

The pack is stronger too, because Brodie Retallick is back from suspension and starts alongside Sam Whitelock in the secondrow. Foster has moved Scott Barrett back to the flank, which means it is a hefty pack, with three lock forwards and plenty of options at the lineout. It will be Retallick’s 100th cap. He’s the 12th All Black to do it, all of them have played in the last 11 years. Which tells you, yes, something about how congested the playing schedule is, but also about how strong the spine of the team has been in that time.

“Brodie’s been there since 2012,” said Foster. “So he’s been a massive part of the engine room of an All Black pack for a long time, but he’s multiskilled, he’s got that tough edge to him but he’s also got those skills around the park, and that’s always been a feature of his game. He’s a major contributor behind the scenes, he’s the heart and soul of this group.”

Retallick and Whitelock

You wouldn’t necessarily know it from listening to him in press conferences, like Foster, Retallick isn’t much of a talker. “It’s awesome, there’s 11 players who have done it and I’ve been there for nine of them so I’ve seen how special it is and how cool a moment it is for the player and their family,” said Retallick.

It will also be the 64th Test he and Whitelock have started together, which breaks a record set by Bakkies Botha and Victor Matfield. “They complement each other because they’re slightly different style locks,” said Foster. “I know that Sam is going to be delighted for his mate, but they probably won’t talk to each other too much about it. They’ll probably look at each other, raise their eyebrows, get stuck into the game and then maybe have a quiet drink together afterwards.”

They will be hoping the beer tastes better than it did that night in Yokohama, anyway. Those individual achievements will mean much to them if they lose. — Guardian