All Blacks to favour tweaks over radical changes for England rematch

Publish Date
Thursday, 11 July 2024, 8:17AM

By Liam Napier

Continuity and cohesion are the buzz words for the All Blacks as they seek small shifts over radical change for their second confrontation with England at Eden Park.

By and large, the All Blacks are expected to pick and stick with the same side that pipped England in a tense finish in Dunedin last week.

Following that knife-edge victory, All Blacks head coach Scott Robertson and assistant Jason Holland referenced the desire to maintain faith in most of last week’s squad to allow the team time to learn and grow under the new regime.

Other than Stephen Perofeta’s selection at fullback, Robertson started his new era on a conservative note by backing experience with none of the five squad rookies included last week.

That broad theme is likely to continue as the All Blacks chase a much more convincing performance against a highly motivated England team.

Widespread personnel changes at this early stage, in the second week of Robertson’s tenure, would have a destabilising affect. Two or three tweaks, though, are possible.

TJ Perenara’s injury-enforced absence is expected to promote Blues halfback Finlay Christie to the starting role and bring Cortez Ratima’s dynamic presence onto the bench for his test debut.

While Robertson and Holland dropped the continuity and cohesion selection inferences, both hinted at tweaks by placing the onus on individual performances and the need to improve specific areas such as attacking execution, lineout accuracy and breakdown cleanout work.

Damian McKenzie, the late timed-out penalty aside, did enough to suggest he should be retained for his seventh start at No 10 for the All Blacks. A second start should leave him and the All Blacks more prepared to counter England’s pressing defensive line speed.

Beauden Barrett’s presence looms large over both playmaking roles, though.

Robertson last week suggested Barrett’s lack of recent game-time, having played one club match in five weeks since returning from Japan, was a major factor in relegating the test centurion to the bench behind McKenzie and Perofeta.

Barrett’s influential 29-minute cameo in Dunedin, where his kicking vision pinned England inside their half to help turn the tide and earn decisive penalties, adds significant pressure to the starting fullback debate.

While it would be harsh to switch Perofeta’s silky feet and distribution to an impact role, Barrett’s calm composure from the backfield could be preferred.

Rieko Ioane’s stronghold on the All Blacks centre jersey could be scrutinised, too, after he missed one first half chance to put Mark Tele’a away down the left edge and dropped a hard-ball carry as England’s line beckoned.

Ioane continued his high work-rate from the title-winning Blues campaign but Anton Lienert-Brown is applying pressure for a starting chance outside Jordie Barrett.

The other change the All Blacks will consider is at blindside after Samipeni Finau struggled to carry his enforcer status from Super Rugby to the test scene with the same imposing physical style.

Finau was bundled into touch on one occasion in the first half and, prior to departing for a second half HIA, was outplayed by New Zealand-raised England counterpart Chandler Cunningham-South.

The All Blacks have been open with the need to improve their breakdown work, with England snaffling six turnovers. Promoting combative Crusaders blindside Ethan Blackadder or Chiefs captain Luke Jacobson would ensure a stronger presence there, though possibly at the risk of starting an undersized loose forward trio.

On the back of a dominant scrum the All Blacks tight five will be retained in the quest to improve their lineout and embrace the maul to launch Holland’s strike moves from a more frequent stable platform.

Lethal wings Sevu Reece, the best player under the Dunedin roof, and Tele’a are expected to be handed another chance to display their dazzling feet, provided the All Blacks can negate England’s defensive midfield rush more effectively than they did last week.

On the whole continuity and cohesion form the focus for the All Blacks, with the odd tweak, as they attempt to shake off their first test jitters and defend fortress Eden Park.

Possible All Blacks team:
1. Ethan de Groot, 2. Codie Taylor, 3. Tyrel Lomax, 4. Scott Barrett (c), 5. Patrick Tuipulotu, 6. Samipeni Finau, 7. Dalton Papali’i, 8. Ardie Savea, 9. Finlay Christie, 10. Damian McKenzie, 11. Mark Tele’a, 12. Jordie Barrett, 13. Rieko Ioane, 14. Sevu Reece, 15. Beauden Barrett/Stephen Perofeta

16. Asafo Aumua, 17. Ofa Tu’ungafasi, 18. Fletcher Newell, 19. Tupou Vaa’i, 20. Luke Jacobson, 21. Cortez Ratima 22. Anton Lienert-Brown, 23. Stephen Perofeta/Beauden Barrett

This article was first published on and is republished here with permission

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