Foster brings in big guns as All Blacks look to avenge World Cup England exit

Sport

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. The 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,” Foster said, “but I don’t think it’s relevant to where we’re at now.”

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

“We know they are a team that’s searching for consistency,” Foster said. 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,” Foster said. 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.”

Foster has picked his strongest squad for it. Richie Mo’unga is in at fly-half 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,” Foster said, “so last week our No 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 second row. 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,” says Foster. “So he’s been a massive part of the engine room of an All Black pack for a long time, but he’s multi-skilled, 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.”

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,” he offered, “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.”

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,” says 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.