The All Blacks selectors have settled on their much-debated top midfield combination, but they’re keeping their preference under wraps.
After Ryan Crotty and Anton Lienert-Brown started in their blockbuster opener against South Africa, the veteran Sonny Bill Williams and rising talent Jack Goodhue can expect plenty of game time against Canada, Namibia and Italy before the quarter-finals.
Assistant coach Ian Foster believes it’s good practice to mix up the midfield foursome so there is familiarity for all possible combinations.
“Do we know what our leading midfield is? Probably. We’ve got a good idea. I’m not going to tell you but I’m really happy with the combinations we’re developing,” Foster said.
“History’s told us it’s a physical area. We’ve often had to make changes in that area in the last two years. We haven’t had a lot of consistency of two guys doing the role for a whole lot of Tests in a row. Some people see that as a negative, we see that as a positive.”
Settling on the centres is the last piece in the puzzle for the All Blacks’ A-list backline, with the coaches seemingly happy with Aaron Smith and Richie Mo’unga as halves with Beauden Barrett as a roving fullback and the energetic George Bridge and Sevu Reece on the wings.
The defending champions, who headed to the hot-springs resort city of Beppu in southern Japan on Tuesday, have a 10-day break before their next match against Canada.
But Foster said there will be no slacking off.
“The reality is we’ve got three more opportunities to hone our game and to get it to the point we need it to be at,” he said.
“The only way we’re going to progress any further is if we keep trying to meet our own expectations on a daily basis.”