Ian Foster faces selection balancing act as All Blacks line up Pumas

With all the off-the-field business out of the way, Ian Foster can now set his sights on the next challenge ahead of the All Blacksback-to-back clashes against Los Pumas.

Both NZ and Argentina are coming off remarkable victories and will head into their first match in Christchurch full of confidence.

Los Pumas, of course, are fresh off a historic 48-17 victory over the Wallabies in San Juan while the All Blacks bounced back in the best possible way against the Springboks at Ellis Park following three successive defeats.

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The Rugby Championship takes a break this weekend – and that gives Foster plenty of time to weigh up his selections for next Saturday’s fixture at Orangetheory Stadium.

Traditionally, games against Argentina have presented New Zealand with an opportunity to blood new talent and hand precious minutes to less established players, with 14 All Blacks earning their debuts against Los Pumas between 2012 and 2019 (the most of any opposition that NZ faced during that period) and countless more notching up some of their first starts in the Test arena. Somewhat unusual schedules over the past two years have prevented that from happening since the 2019 World Cup but after a tough start to the year that’s seen the All Blacks take on two of the world’s best, coach Foster finally have some room to breathe and might look to give some of underutilized charges greater opportunities over the next two matches.

36 players were named in the first All Blacks squad of the season (including Josh Lord, who was ruled out for the year shortly following the team naming) while a further six players have been added to that group since. Of the 41 ‘fit’ players that Foster and his fellow selectors have called up for the current campaign, just 24 have been handed starts – while some have barely featured even from the bench.

Blues first five-eighth Stephen Perofeta and loose forward Hoskins Sotutu are both yet to take the field for the All Blacks this year, with the former still waiting on his Test debut, while others such as Aidan Ross, Dane ColesTupou Vaa’i, Patrick TuipulotuDalton Papalii, Finlay Christie, Folau Fakatava, Jack Goodhue, Braydon Ennor and Roger Tuivasa-Sheck have had meager opportunities to stretch their legs.

Many of the above cohort will get a much-needed taste of NPC action this weekend for their respective provinces but, ultimately, they need to be playing international rugby.

It’s unlikely that Foster will make mass changes to the side that finally broke their duck against the Springboks in Johannesburg – in part because the match-day squad who got the business done at Ellis Park should be rewarded for their win and in part because, despite their victory on the highveld, the current iteration of the All Blacks haven’t exactly cracked the code to success.

Foster may well have recently received the backing of the New Zealand Rugby board and effectively been guaranteed his position as head coach until the Rugby World Cup but a loss in Christchurch would cast a dark cloud over the ‘reappointment’ and given Los Pumas’ recent triumph over the Wallabies – trumping their previous best winning margin over Australia by a massive 26 points – now might not be the best time to chop and change.

Springboks coach Jacques Nienaber has made a few selection slip-ups over the past month – making mass changes for their second Test with Wales in July and tweaking the team for the rematch with the All Blacks at Ellis Park – that have probably cost South Africa an unbeaten start to the year. The All Blacks have had even less success than their long-term rivals in 2022 and what would be a historic defeat to Los Pumas would quickly have the critics out in full force.

All that being said, squad building can’t take a complete backseat while the All Blacks try to get themselves back on track. There are still serious questions surrounding the depth in the tight five, the halves and midfield, and home Tests against Argentina present the perfect opportunity for Foster to at least mix things up a bit. The young props who got the business done in the second leg of the South Africa tour certainly deserve a chance to back up their efforts while lock Vaa’i is in need of a start and one of Aaron Smith’s halfback understudies needs to be given an opportunity to show what they can offer over more than just a 10 or 20-minute cameo off the bench.

The men who have been putting in the work at training need to know that Ian Foster has confidence in them to get the work done against a plucky Argentina side and that means taking a small but calculated risk in Christchurch next weekend.

Potential All Blacks team to play Argentina: Stephen Perofeta, Sevu Reece, Rieko IoaneDavid Havili, Leicester Fainga’anuku, Richie Mo’ungaFinlay Christie, Ardie Savea, Sam Cane, Shannon FrizellSam Whitelock, Tupou Vaa’i, Tyrel Lomax, Samisoni Taukei’ahoEthan de Groot. Reserves: Dane Coles, George Bower, Fletcher NewellPatrick Tuipulotu, Hoskins Sotutu, Aaron Smith, Beauden BarrettJack Goodhue.

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