LYON: Sam Whitelock is set to break the New Zealand Test appearances record he shares with Richie McCaw after head coach Ian Foster on Wednesday named him on the bench to face Italy at the World Cup. Whitelock is locked on 148 All Black caps with former captain McCaw. “This is a credit to Sam, every game he’s achieving something new at the moment,” said Foster. “He equalled a record the last match, he’s going to beat it this week, he’s got 150 coming up and then the most capped All Black in World Cups.”
Foster made nine changes to the All Blacks team for Friday’s match in Lyon, which comes two weeks after they romped to a 71-3 victory over Namibia, with a largely second string side. A host of players rested for that match are back in the starting XV, along with flanker Shannon Frizell and centre Jordie Barrett following injury. Ardie Savea captains the side from No.8 while Scott Barrett and Brodie Retallick get the nod over Whitelock in the second row. But Foster denied this meant Barrett and Retallick were now his starting second row pairing.
“I won’t commit to saying that’s the absolute pecking order but we just feel that right now it’s the right one for this game,” he said. “We’ve got four locks who we’re pretty happy with their form. We’ve got Brodie who’s coming back from injuries. He missed a bit of rugby. “He played a little bit in that France game, he got 55 minutes gainst Namibia, so we feel he needs more time (on the pitch).”
‘History means nothing’
Aaron Smith and Richie Mo’unga resume the half-back partnership Foster picked for New Zealand’s tournament opener, a 27-13 loss to hosts France. Young prop Tamiti Williams is due to make his World Cup debut after being named on the bench as Ethan de Groot is suspended.
Otherwise it is a very experienced bench with hooker Dane Coles, 36, backrower Sam Cane, 31, and 34-year-old Whitelock amongst the replacements. “We’re expecting a lot of emotion out there and to have the likes of Dane and the two Sams on the bench to come off there and to bring a slightly level-headed approach in the last part is going to be important for us,” said Foster.
The inclusion of Damian McKenzie on the bench means Foster could bring him on and play three of the world’s best fly-halves—Mo’unga and full-back Beauden Barrett the other two—in his backline all together. “He’s earned the right to do that, he’s playing well, training well,” Foster said of McKenzie. “It’s a chance for us to look at how we can inject him into that space. That obviously changes the configuration and coverage we have in the backs, but we’ve been working on that.”
New Zealand have beaten Italy in all 15 previous matches by an average of more than 50 points. But Foster feels the current Azzurri side are a different proposition to what the All Blacks have faced before. “History means nothing, history is yesterday’s newspaper, it’s not tomorrow’s,” he said. “We’ve seen them leading France into the last 10 minutes of a Six Nations game, we’ve seen them pushing Ireland right to the end, so if you look at the recent form, they’re playing well and that’s the Italy we expect to turn up.”
Beauden Barrett; Will Jordan, Rieko Ioane, Jordie Barrett, Mark Tele’a; Richie Mo’unga, Aaron Smith; Ardie Savea (capt), Dalton Papali’i, Shannon Frizell; Scott Barrett, Brodie Retallick; Nepo Laulala, Codie Taylor, Ofa Tu’ungafasi
Replacements: Dane Coles, Tamaiti Williams, Tyrel Lomax, Samuel Whitelock, Sam Cane, Cam Roigard, Damian McKenzie, Anton Lienert-Brown
Coach: Ian Foster (NZL). – AFP