DHL Super Rugby Pacific intensity gives pointer to international season
Watching the ferocity of the breakdown during the DHL Super Rugby Pacific final reinforced what the All Blacks can expect during their Lipovitan-D Rugby Championship and Rugby World Cup campaigns in 2023.
All Blacks coach Ian Foster said in the final the breakdown had become something of a free-for-all and was aggressive.
"There was a lot of people counter-rucking and turned that into a bun fight, and there were decisions made...you look at Sam's [Cane] decision near the end where people were very aggressive in that space for the whole game, and he probably tried once too often.
"The breakdown has become very competitive."
The three yellow cards the Chiefs suffered were not what the All Blacks selectors wanted, and neither did the Chiefs.
"But sometimes your senior players want something so badly that they over-extend, or force a play when they don't need to, so it's like every pressure moment. There are some great learnings in that."
Having the best possible combinations on the bench would also be part of their approach during the lead-up to the World Cup.
Foster said when they got that right last year, the bench performed significant roles, and they would be looking to get the matchday 23 right.
"There're some players who are in a good spot to put their hand up for that."
Foster said the transition between two campaigns, Super Rugby and Tests, was always challenging. Some players had been involved until the end of the Super Rugby campaign, and others had an extra week or two to be prepared. There were also different systems to be introduced and new languages for players to adapt to.
Because of the reduced Rugby Championship campaign ahead of the World Cup, every day was essential to the side's preparation.
The first week would allow bodies to heal and emotions to settle, and the coaches would not push the players too hard physically.
"At the same time we're equally demanding on the mental side of it because we need to make sure that we're ready."
Lock Sam Whitelock did not train with the side on Wednesday due to his Achilles tendon injury, which would be assessed again later in the week. Wing Leicester Fainga'anuku has a tight calf, and that would also be assessed while wing Mark Telea's recovery from a knee strain was progressing well.
Prop Fletcher Newell was another close to being ready, but Hurricanes prop Tevita Mafileo has joined the group as cover, and Foster said it was likely he would travel with the party to Argentina along with Newell, who was probably another week away. It was also likely that Shaun Stevenson, who is covering for Telea, would travel with the side.
Foster joined the chorus of criticism of fans who have taken to abusing referees, especially Ben O'Keeffe, after Saturday's Super Rugby Pacific final.
"There's no place for it. Ben's [O'Keeffe] is a quality ref. I trust he was making the decisions for the right reasons, and like always, he's never going to get 100 per cent right, coaches are never going to get 100 per cent right, and players are never going to.
"But we've got an unforgiving crowd out there at the moment who like to pick holes and it's a sad part. I think we've all got to play a part. We've [All Blacks] got to play a part in that, the medias got to play a part and we've got to stamp that out because the refs have got a tough job and we've got to keep standing by them."
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