All Blacks ponder tweaks for first England test

TOBY ROBSON
Last updated 05:00 26/05/2014

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All Blacks assistant coach Ian Foster concedes there will be a temptation to experiment with some combinations during the first test before England's full squad arrives in New Zealand.

England's squad are arriving in the country in two waves with a large chunk of first stringers not available for the first test at Eden Park after playing in the Aviva Premiership final next weekend.

Foster said just who fronts for the first of the touring side's four matches in New Zealand could have some influence on the selectors' plans.

''That's going to be part of the plan figuring that out,'' he said yesterday after the All Blacks wider training squad assembled in Wellington. 

''Week in, week out we are looking at who is coming over and who we're likely to be playing. We only have three weeks, so we have a short time and we need to build on where we were last year.

''I don't think we'll be going with anything too radical selection wise [in the first test], but we will look at the three-match series and say how can we progress as a team and which combinations are worth tweaking.''

So wouldn't a weaker England be the best chance to give new players such as centre Malakai Fekitoa a taste of test rugby?

''That'll be an interesting debate that first week. There's definitely going to be a number of guys from their usual 23 that won't be playing that first test because of their calendar. 

''The big thing is will that weaken them? I think it makes them very dangerous. I know if we had ten first string players who couldn't play that first game, the players we did put in there would be playing for their lives. 

''Make no mistake that first week is going to be a massive week because there will be guys in the English jersey desperate to play well for their own futures.''

Foster believes England have the depth to field a quality side even without the players involved in the final between Saracens and Northampton.

''If you've been watching the Northern Hemisphere rugby you will be aware the quality is very good. They have a squad with similar depth to us and that first test is going to be a humdinger I think in terms of intensity.''

Foster also dismissed any disadvantage to the All Blacks in having a string of tough Super Rugby derby matches so close to the test series.

''We're not alone with these issues. We've been watching the English and the other competitions up north and they are having a crack at each other every week too.''

One player who won't be in the England side is Bath's George Ford, who had been expected to start at first five-eighth at Eden Park on June 7 in the absence of late arrivals Owen Farrell and Stephen Myler.

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He requires shoulder surgery and has been ruled out of the tour meaning either Danny Cipriani or Freddie Burns is likely to start at No 10.

- The Dominion Post

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