Returning stars boost All Blacks for Italy clash
All Blacks coach Ian Foster has welcomed blindside flanker Shannon Frizell and second five-eighths Jordie Barrett back from injury by naming them in the starting XV for Saturday's (NZT) Rugby World Cup pool game in Lyon.
Also back from injury and returning off the bench will be flanker Sam Cane and prop Tyrel Lomax. It will be the first game of the tournament for the four players.
Foster said their week in Bordeaux had been ideal for getting those players up to match readiness for what is a crucial game towards sealing a quarterfinal place.
He said, "I'm confident with Shannon and Jordie. We've been able to get them in the starting line-up. With Tyrel, there is a good chance for him to get some time under his belt off the bench. We all know how much we rate him.
"With Sam, he needed to tick a few boxes at the first two training sessions this week, which is why we gave him time to do that, by starting him off the bench."
Foster was looking forward to Frizell building towards the sort of play he showed in the Rugby Championship Test against South Africa. He said the selectors challenged him, after a few years in the role, to play to his best, and he had responded.
"He's brought, in many ways, a simplicity to his game. He's focusing on the quality of his ball carry, the quality of his tackle and his connections with the likes of Ardie (Savea) and Sam, and now Dalton (Papali'i) this week. He's improved his work-rate and he's improved his quality in those two areas, and that's all we want out of him for Friday."
Foster responded to Italian claims that they expected the All Blacks to try to bully them.
"That's rugby, everyone is trying to do that. They'll be trying to do that to us. It's a physical game. It's not a lack of respect from anyone. Both teams, there's a lot at stake. This was always going to be a game we knew we had to get excited about and play well in.
"The good thing is that we are playing a team that is confident, so there are no surprises. They've earned that. The last two years, we've seen a lot of growth in their game. I made the point after the Six Nations ,that they were one of the highlights of the Six Nations, the way they played and the competitiveness of all their games."
Brodie Retallick and Scott Barrett have been given the starting role as locks, while Sam Whitelock, should he take the field from the bench, is set to break Richie McCaw's record of 148 Test matches.
Foster said, "It's the order we have for this game. I won't commit to saying it's the absolute pecking order. Right now, it's the right one for this game.
"We've got four locks that we are pretty happy with their form. We've got Brodie, who is coming back from injury; he's missed a bit of rugby. He played a little bit in that France game, and [against] Namibia, he got 55 minutes, so he needs more time.
Foster said he didn't think having Whitelock break the record off the bench detracted from the romance of his achievement.
"This is a credit to Sam; he achieves something new every game. He equalled a record last week and will beat it this week. He's got 150 (caps) coming up and then he's got the most capped All Black in World Cups. Every day is a statement of something he's achieving.
Foster said that Italy has never beaten the All Blacks meant nothing.
"History means nothing. History is yesterday's newspaper, isn't it, not tomorrow's."
All Blacks v Italy, Pool A: Friday 29 September, 9pm CEST, (Saturday 30 September, 8am NZT), Lyon, France. Live on Sky Sport NZ.
Your 23 to face Italy 🖤— All Blacks (@AllBlacks) September 27, 2023
Samuel Whitelock is set to play his 149th Test Match on Friday night. This will make him the most capped Test player in All Blacks history #AllBlacks pic.twitter.com/9QNTMrtZfv