Let's get physical: All Blacks harden up for Fiji Test

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·3-min read
New Zealand's Ardie Savea is set to return against Fiji after being sidelined by injury
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An injury-free All Blacks hardman Ardie Savea will lead a revamped loose trio intent on winning the physical showdown with Fiji in the second Test in Hamilton on Saturday.

Savea is joined by Luke Jacobson and Akira Ioane in the pack named Thursday, while Richie Mo'unga has reclaimed the fly-half role to give the All Blacks' attack better direction.

New Zealand were widely criticised for their performance in the first Test last weekend against Fiji even though they won 57-23.

The score masked the fact that until Fiji ran out of steam with 20 minutes remaining, the All Blacks were clinging to an eight-point lead and losing the battle at the breakdown.

Savea, who had been sidelined by a knee injury, said that has to change.

"We're a physical team too, and we want to go out there and stamp our mark as well," he said.

"It's about our ball carriers doing a job and our cleaners being able to be in there and not giving them an opportunity to get over the ball."

Jacobson, who was rested last week after a strong performance in the All Blacks' season opener against Tonga, said a bruising encounter was what he wanted.

"I'm really looking forward to it. I enjoy those physical match ups," he said.

"There's been a bit of chat around the breakdown, Fiji did do pretty well in that area last week, but we've but spent a bit of time on it this week."

- 'We still want to attack' -

The other significant changes in the team are the return of Anton Lienert-Brown from injury for his 50th Test and to add experience to the backline, and Mo'unga edging Beauden Barrett out of the 10 jersey.

Coach Ian Foster said that in addition to a more physical forward presence, the All Blacks also needed a sharper attack.

"How we carry the ball and how we recycle the ball is going to be really important but the danger is we don't want to get into a purely retaining mode," he said.

"We still want to attack... I'd like to see a slight improvement in some of our running lines, particularly the counter-attack stuff where I felt we've been just a little bit lateral."

The starting front row is unchanged, with Codie Taylor and props George Bower and Nepo Laulala with Dane Coles, who swung the match last week with four tries, again coming off the bench.

Samuel Whitelock returns to captain the side at lock and will partner Scott Barrett.

Aaron Smith teams up with Mo'unga in the halves and David Havili, who straightened the line well in the first Test, joins Lienert-Brown in the midfield with Will Jordan, Sevu Reece and Damian McKenzie forming the back three.

Foster said the performance against Fiji was better than the All Blacks' season opener when they whipped an under-strength Tonga 102-0 "but it did highlight some areas we need to keep growing.

"This campaign has been about growing our game and making sure we have players that are ready to go for what will be a long season."

New Zealand (15-1) Damian McKenzie: Will Jordan, Anton Lienert-Brown, David Havili, Sevu Reece; Richie Mo'unga, Aaron Smith; Luke Jacobson, Ardie Savea, Akira Ioane; Sam Whitelock (capt), Scott Barrett; Nepo Laulala, Codie Taylor, George Bower.

Replacements: Dane Coles, Ethan de Groot, Angus Ta'avao, Brodie Retallick, Shannon Frizell, Brad Weber, Beauden Barrett, Rieko Ioane.

cf/arb/qan

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