It was an exciting start, but All Blacks coach Ian Foster felt his team’s handling of the inevitable South African fightback could be even more exciting on Saturday with a 35-20 Rugby Championship win over the Springboks.
Speaking after the result to both take the New Zealanders into the tournament, and give them confidence in preparation for the World Cup, Foster said he would take a lot from his team’s second consecutive game in 2023.
“The way we jumped into the game,” he said when asked what impressed him most about the subsequent 17-0 quarter-hour win.
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“They are a good team and we obviously hurt them early on with the way we played. I thought our desire to play above them early on was there and we were rewarded for that.
“But they came back. We talked before about protecting the lead, and they had a lot of experience on their bench in the third quarter. But I thought we paddled, so it’s a good step for us.”
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The All Blacks had to settle for a place or two as the Boks clawed their way back into the contest, falling within eight (23-15) with Cheslin Kolbe’s goal in the 67th minute. But Foster felt a close second half would instill much-needed confidence in his team.
“Every win in South Africa is special, especially this South African team, and to deal with the quality they had on the bench, and the way we did, was encouraging,” he said.
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“I think what gives us confidence is that they were strong in the second half when they were on top, and instead of losing our way for a long time we were able to find a way back.
“This is the part that was really exciting. If we can continue to build that confidence in that part of our game then things in the first part will be very good.”
Asked if his All Blacks were where he wanted them to be at this time of the year, Foster added: “Two out of two. We get distracted by looking too far ahead.
“We’ve got a lot of growing to do. We’re learning to just nail it every week, not think too much about anything else, and just focus on being the best we can be right now. For us, it’s meant that we haven’t tried to analyze the past or get too excited about the future. “
As for any speculation about the impending World Cup quarter-final against the Boks, the All Blacks coach was not overly impressed.
“I don’t know… The World Cup is a one-off game…. in some ways I don’t think it’s important, because of the nature of the World Cups. Where it’s important is your confidence. Get out of building blocks in your own game. We’ll take that.
“But you have to go back to Super Rugby to recognize the team that won it twice a year. But we’re delighted with tonight’s game.”
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Foster also had positive praise for his two looks, loosie Shannon Frizell and wing Will Jordan.
“(Shannon) has taken the challenge on the pitch. It’s the jersey he wants. I was happy. I thought last week was one of his best tests, and Argentina is a strong team, and he was strong. To do it again this week. It’s very special, he should be proud .
“When Jordan was rested he came back and we saw his character. The ball went quickly which was pleasing, and the fact that we could take him more from the wing was also very pleasing.”
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Skipper Sam Cane, who left at half-time with a non-serious neck injury, was also impressed with a performance that will give his side two games into the new season. He said the start was important because he won the first few runs, put the ball in the air and slowed down the pace of the visitors’ line.
“We are in a very good position. We came and prepared for a while but it was good for us as a team going to Argentina … it helped us to meet quickly, and to be able to play two games. We are very proud. But we will continue to look for ways to change, so come the right time of the year we are doing well.”
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