With the Rugby Championship and Bledisloe Cup tidied up and consistency starting to return to the All Blacks, manager Ian Foster is looking to ‘build’ on the foundations on this year’s Northern tour.
The All Blacks held a public training session in Nelson today ahead of their tour at the end of the month, meeting as a squad after a short break following the conclusion of Championship Rugby.
With four wins in their last five Tests, the All Blacks have buried some of the demons that have haunted them since last year’s tour and the start of the season, but Foster knows England, Wales and the Scotland will offer new challenges to their team.
“When you watch Test matches, they’re called Test matches for a reason,” Foster said today.
“We just want to build strong. We have to look at all the opportunities we can – we haven’t had many opportunities to go up north in this World Cup cycle, so we have to cherish this tour and the opportunities that she represents.”
With that in mind, Foster has made no promises to assuage everyone’s game-time hopes on the four-Test tour which kicks off against Japan in Tokyo on October 29.
“The goal is to increase the performance of our team,” he said.
“So we do all kinds of assessments on the players, how they train, their energy levels and what opportunities they need.
“It’s not possible to please every individual and give them everything they want, but we certainly know that we want to give players as many opportunities as possible to grow.”
Before arriving in the UK, however, the All Blacks take on Japan in a match that Foster does not take lightly.
“If you go to the last World Cup, they won some big games and they’ve played really well against France and Australia A recently, so they’re very well prepared,” Foster said of the Brave Blossoms.
“We know they are a growing nation and this is a test they will definitely be targeting, so nothing changes. Everyone we face will be ready to face us.”
While he wasn’t ‘planning’ the England Test at Twickenham – the All Blacks’ first against Eddie Jones’ men since their 19-7 semi-final defeat at the last Rugby World Cup – Foster noted that this match would be one to look forward to.
“Playing against England at Twickenham is always special and the fact that we haven’t faced them since 2019 in a game I remember well is going to make it even more important.”
McKenzie, ABs XV on Foster’s radar
Foster also noted two other significant games that took place during their time in the UK – the All Blacks XV games against Ireland A and the Barbarians.
The selectors, including Foster, named the inaugural squad for the two-game tour on Monday with plenty of talent spread out.
One name in particular that caught the eye of punters was playmaker Damian McKenzie, who was named to the team after returning from his season in Japan.
Foster said McKenzie still had a chance to return to the top flight, with the 27-year-old given instructions on what to do with his chances later this year.
“[He just needs to] continue on how he really left,” Foster said. “He played at 10, at 15.
“He has made some adjustments since his return. We rate Damian very well.
“It’s a great chance for him to go up north and help guide the All Blacks [XV] team around.”
Alongside McKenzie, the development side also includes other experienced All Blacks such as prop Angus Ta’avao, half-backs TJ Perenara and Brad Weber and lock Patrick Tuipulotu – the latter serving as captain for the tour.
“This round of testing with the B team that we have put together gives us a good opportunity to expand our base a bit,” Foster said.