The All Blacks are creeping quietly towards this World Cup final. While South Africa’s Jacques Nienaber drew everyone’s attention by naming a team with seven forwards among the eight replacements, New Zealand’s Ian Foster continues slow and steady as he goes. Foster has made one change to the starting XV that beat Argentina last week, with Brodie Retallick coming into the second row in place of Sam Whitelock. The tighthead prop Nepo Laulala has also replaced Fletcher Newell on the bench in the only other change.
Foster, who has one eye on the way South Africa’s replacements out-scrummaged England in the second half of their semi-final, described Laulala’s inclusion as “a response” to Nienaber’s selection. “Not so much to the power but the technique we feel we will have to deal with,” he said. “Nepo is a very strong scrummager, he’s very experienced, and he has trained so well so with the likes of Sam Whitelock on the bench as well, we’ve got a lot of confidence in that group coming on.”
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Whitelock and Retallick are two of a group of players who are bowing out for the All Blacks this weekend, along with Richie Mo’unga, Aaron Smith, and Dane Coles, who did not make the 23. Foster described his conversation with Coles as “the toughest of my career”. He will be moving on, too. “I’m looking forward to going home and mowing the lawn,” he said when asked about his plans, before confirming that he was planning to carry on in coaching. While none of them wanted to be drawn into discussing it until after the match, it is clear that the team are using all this as a source of extra motivation.
Not that they need too much more of it. “We’ve got two teams that are the old, old foes playing each other, and we all remember the last one they played against each other in the final in 1995,” Foster said. “That was an epic, and everyone’s hoping this will be the same.”
Rugby World Cup final – the teams
New Zealand: B Barrett; Jordan, Ioane, J Barrett, Telea; Mo’unga, Smith; de Groot, Taylor, Lomax, Retallick, S Barrett, Frizell, Cane, Savea.
Replacements: Taukei’aho, Williams, Laulala, Whitelock, Papali’i, Christie, McKenzie, Lienart-Brown
South Africa: Willemse; Arendse, Kriel, de Allende, Kolbe; Pollard, de Klerk; Kitshoff, Mbonambi, Malherbe, Etzebeth, Mostert, Kolisi, du Toit, Vermeulen.
Replacements: Fourie, Nché, Nyakane, Kleyn, Snyman, Smith, Wiese, le Roux
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They would rather that than the 35-7 shellacking they took the last time the two played, at Twickenham in August. The back-line is the same as the one Foster used in that match, but three of the pack are different, with Codie Taylor, Retallick and Shannon Frizell all starting. South Africa used a seven-one split in that match, too. Foster laughed off the suggestion that it had any bearing on this weekend’s game. “We doubled up their seven-one split by playing with 14 men for that game,” he joked. “We even used 13 for quite a bit of it. So we tried that clever strategy and we didn’t much like it so we’re trying a different one this week.”
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“It’s what I love about the game,” Foster said. “People try different tactics. They’ve got their way of playing and we’ve got ours. It doesn’t change the way we prepare. Their strategy suits them, ours suits us and that’s going to make it very interesting on Saturday night.”