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The All Blacks will want to get things back on track in Washington DC after their first defeat of 2021.
All Blacks coach Ian Foster has vowed to go hard at the United States in Sunday’s historic Washington DC test, despite any potential collateral damage a heavy defeat could do to the game in that part of the world.
The US Eagles are not exactly flying heading into Sunday’s opening test of the All Blacks’ northern tour after their dispiriting 34-15 World Cup qualifying defeat to Uruguay, and down a few troops because the test falls outside the international window.
But Foster has shrugged off the prospect of the kid gloves coming out for Sunday’s (NZT) fixture at FedEx Field in the nation’s capital, despite the match having an element of brand-building about it in a USA market still largely coming to grips with the game of rugby.
Ian Foster says some of the newer All Blacks will play against USA.
The US are currently considered the major competitors to Australia in the bidding process to host the 2027 Rugby World Cup, while they have established a national professional league in the form of Major League Rugby.
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The national team, however, has struggled for any sort of consistency in 2021, beaten 43-29 by England and 71-10 by Ireland in June, despite those sides being well under-strength, and splitting tests against both Canada and Uruguay in the World Cup qualifying process that saw them ultimately ousted by the South Americans.
Foster has indicated he is likely to give his new faces a run in Washington on Sunday (8.30am kickoff NZT), as well as some of his lesser-used squad members from the Rugby Championship, but has also indicated there could be a look at some contenders to play against Wales a week later.
However he said he was not concerned about what a heavy defeat could do to the US game.
“I think they’re less worried about the result, and more excited by the opportunity,” he said. “They’ll be seeing us as a chance to measure themselves and see what difference the standard is.
“If you go back to the England game, it wasn’t that long ago they were actually very competitive for a long period. We’ve got to be careful we don’t get confused that a result can impact negatively on a game in a market.
“In this case there is a whole lot going to happen around the game. We know there’s a sense of trying to grow the game in another market, and we’re not trying to hide from that, but the flip side of it is what we are trying to sell is a combative game of skill and pace, and hopefully over there fans see that and see something they like.”
The All Blacks’ last match against the US on their home soil was in 2014, with the New Zealanders running out 74-6 victors in Chicago.
Foster vowed the game-selling nature of the occasion would not impact the mindset of the All Blacks come Sunday.
“It’s not a marketing thing for us … it probably is for the All Blacks brand, but for an All Blacks team this is one of 15 tests, and we’ve got some things we’ll go in wanting to work on. We’ll set some on-field objectives that are important for us to get right.
“We’ve had a big gap since the Rugby Championship, we need a game and a hitout like this is going to be fantastic for us.”
It’s unlikely Foster sends too many of his frontliners out on Sunday, though the coach was happy to endorse the play thus far of Jordie Barrett who had featured in nine of the 10 tests of 2021 and started at fullback in the last five.
“He’s grown his understanding of the game,” said the coach. “He’s always been confident in his physicality and how he approaches the game from that sense, but he’s just a young guy now progressing with his decision-making and reading of his defensive lines.
“His counter-attack stuff has been pretty influential. I just think he’s calmer and clearer, and that’s come with time in the saddle. The last 2-3 years he’s had a lot of learning opportunities, and he’s grown. Sometimes when you don’t get the jersey for a few weeks it does focus you on what you’ve got to get right, and he’s certainly responded.”
Foster also confirmed he was no fan of the 50-22 and goal-line dropout laws being trialled in 2021.
“I don’t think it’s added a lot to the game,” he said. “I know they’ll be reviewed at some point, but I don’t feel they’ve changed the shape of the game to the extent perhaps thought. I encourage the fact we’re trying something, but I’m not sure it’s added spice to the game.”
Meanwhile, the All Blacks coach made it clear the Washington DC week would not be a sightseeing exercise.
“There’s a lot of history there – it’s a big power centre of the country. But we’ve reduced our expectations on areas like that with the world we’re going into and know the things we see now are going to be from our own bus, rather than wandering round too much. I am looking forward to a new place but we’re going to see it through a different lens in this Covid world.”