Written by Max Sharp
The 2022 End-of-Year Tour? But we still have two rounds left of the Rugby Championship...
That is indeed the case, but there's no harm in bringing certain things to peoples' conscience earlier than their eventuation. There are six things that need to be on Ian Foster's radar before this tour begins; I know this sounds odd of me to say this, but if Foster can correctly execute a few things here, we could make the comeback from rock bottom and make the 2023 Rugby World Cup Final.
We'll go through the list and we'll see what prospects could lie in store for the 2022 end-of-year tour.
Ardie Savea (Number 8) thanks God as he crosses the try line against Ireland in a clash at Eden Park. Photo: Max Sharp.
Do The Research
If anyone is going to upset France and take the 2023 Rugby World Cup, it'll be England. Eddie Jones began plotting the 2019 takedown of the All Blacks, two years in advance, before using a 2018 test match as a dress rehearsal.
How did Jones mastermind such an event, after just one test against the All Blacks during the 2016-19 World Cup cycle? He did so through hours' worth of analysis on his opponents' match-day footage and the opponents' match-day statistics.
With Joe Schmidt now an analyst and attack coach for the All Blacks, Foster taking his advice on patterns found in the opponents, could be the game changer we have sorely needed since Schmidt's Ireland broke our 18-test win streak back in Chicago, during 2016. Schmidt has already done well in building a more dynamic attacking approach to the team.
Resting Experienced Players
The exhaustion of a nation's most-experienced players is often felt in a World Cup. Richie McCaw for example, played through the 2011 tournament with a broken foot. Ian Foster's willingness to select experienced players, is well documented.
Foster has been the All Blacks Head Coach for 28 tests in total; meaning each jersey in the All Blacks, has been offered a total of 2240 minutes through this World Cup cycle (from 1st January 2020 to the present).
Several players have played massive minutes; with Rieko Ioane racking up 1697 minutes in total, the most of any current player. Having spread these across the 11, 13 and 14 jerseys, Ioane has played a total of 75.75% of the test minutes with Ian Foster as the All Blacks coach.
David Havili, Sam Whitelock, Aaron Smith, Sam Cane, Ardie Savea, Will Jordan, Richie Mo'unga, Beauden Barrett and Jordie Barrett, have all also played over 1000 minutes of test rugby for Foster, all of them aside from B. Barrett lead their favoured position's depth chart in terms of minutes played.
14-time All Blacks captain, Sam Whitelock, has played 138 tests since his debut, as well as 1497 minutes of test rugby for Ian Foster, even after a 2021 spell of parental leave. Photo: Max Sharp.
Ioane's massive share of minutes make him Foster's most important player, while Savea is always the first name on the team sheet; being arguably the world's best player.
Whitelock and B. Barrett, both near the end of their careers, have also had a few injuries throughout 2022. Due to the importance of these four players, it would be wise to leave them at home and preserve their energy for a full 2023 campaign at both club and test level. Leaving Jordie Barrett at home would be wise too; this will balance out the returning Damian McKenzie's share of the fullback depth chart.
Embracing The Return of Experienced Players
While it would be good to see those with such a big share of the depth chart rested, it is of utmost importance that Anton Lienert-Brown and the aforementioned Damian McKenzie make their return.
With Jack Goodhue (left) needing another surgery on his ACL, Lienert-Brown's experience will be called upon again. Photo: Max Sharp.
Lienert-Brown has now played 56 tests, while he is still 27 years old; he's no spent force. Experience wins World Cups and he'll need a reference point for his inevitable World Cup campaign; he has not played a test since a 20-29 defeat to Ireland, in 2021, thanks to a shoulder injury. Keeping him in the loop regarding modern tactics will be very important.
McKenzie on the other hand, lost his eligibility for the All Blacks through signing a single-season deal with Tokyo Sungoliath, in Japan. McKenzie has now returned to New Zealand, having signed for Waikato, the Chiefs and NZ Rugby, through to 2023, meaning he will be eligible again by the end-of-year tour. With high utility value off the bench, there would be no harm in giving him as much exposure as possible at both 10 and 15, during the tour.
Organise One More Fixture
Up-and-coming prospects such as Ruben Love, as well as hard-nosed veterans like Kurt Eklund, will be taken care of in regards to depth, when they inevitably tour with the "All Blacks XV" - essentially a national B team.
However, the All Blacks do need to play France again; we will face them in the pool stages, for the opening match of the 2023 Rugby World Cup. France have organised fixtures against Australia, South Africa and Japan, for their end-of-year schedule. But would it hurt to give single-figure-cap players a throw into the baptism of fire? No.
Would the likes of Aidan Ross (centre) and Tupou Vaa'i (right) benefit from starting in a big test ahead of the 2023 Rugby World Cup? Photo: Max Sharp.
Players who wouldn't do so today in our wildest dreams, will indeed end up at the 2023 Rugby World Cup. France are the biggest threat in that tournament, so why not organise one more fixture and give Tupou Vaa'i and Folau Fakatava a start in a massive match? As things stand, the final test we will play for the season is 20th November, against England. The team will still get all of December and January to rest, so take the chance.
Improving Ruck Win Percentage
Here to break a record for how many times I sound like a broken record, Jason Ryan needs to drill the team not to look at the breakdown as a waste of time, but as a golden opportunity to slow the opponents' source of ball. Do you want a big defence line, or for the opponents to lose front-foot ball?
Analysis on the All Blacks' two clashes against South Africa, as uploaded to YouTube.
A deficient ruck percentage, as explained in this recent YouTube video, has contributed to five of Ian Foster's eight losses as a Head Coach, including a loss to South Africa at the Gold Coast in 2021.
If any forwards coach could be relied on, to encourage the likes of Dane Coles and Scott Barrett to contest rucks more often, it would be Jason Ryan.