Ian Foster has no issues with Kiwi trio defecting to Ireland

Date published: November 12 2021 - Planet Rugby

All Blacks boss Ian Foster admits there is little point in discussing whether Ireland’s New Zealand-born trio would have been good enough to play for the country of their birth.

Ireland named a strong squad for the mouth-watering clash which included Jamison Gibson-Park, James Lowe and Bundee Aki, three players that were excellent in Super Rugby.

They didn’t receive an All Black call-up, however, and duly signed for Irish provinces, qualifying for the national team on residency and becoming key parts of Andy Farrell’s squad.

They’re Irish now

“I guess they’re Kiwis in one sense but they’re Irish now,” said Foster.

“They’re three people that have made a decision, they play for Ireland and what will be and what could have been is almost irrelevant.

“Nowadays, the rules are the rules and those three – like a number of others – have made decisions and they’ve made decisions to be Irish.

“There’s not much point speculating about whether they would have been good enough to make it in New Zealand or not.

“I don’t really want to spend any time on that because they’re the ones that made the call.”

Aki, 31, has made 32 Ireland appearances since switching international allegiance in 2017 and toured with Warren Gatland’s Lions during the summer.

Scrum-half Gibson-Park and wing Lowe, both 29, qualified for Ireland last autumn and have won 11 and seven caps respectively.

All three were on the scoresheet last weekend as the Irish warmed up for the visit of New Zealand with a crushing nine-try win over Japan.

Foster believes Andy Farrell’s men are becoming more ambitions with the ball and now possess greater attacking threats.

“They’re well organised, they’re physical, they clearly understand their roles and they play accordingly,” said Foster.

“I think that aspect hasn’t changed and that’s a positive thing about Irish rugby. They’ve been a quality team this year and getting better.

“But we’re seeing an expansion and ambition of what they want to do with the ball and they seem to be more at ease about taking opportunities wider and being comfortably playing like that.

“Credit to them and it just means you’ve got to open your eyes and be aware that they’ve got more threats in attack than perhaps they would have had 24 months ago.”

After naming a much-changed line-up for last weekend’s win in Italy, Foster has brought back his star names.

New Zealand’s team contains 14 players who started the thumping 54-16 victory over Wales a fortnight ago, with wing Sevu Reece the sole survivor from Rome.

The All Blacks – who beat Ireland in the quarter-finals of the 2019 World Cup – have lost just two of the previous 32 meetings between the nations, although one of those setbacks was a 16-9 defeat on their last visit to Lansdowne Road three years ago.

“The relevance of 2018 is we don’t like losing,” said Foster.

“We’ve felt this before with teams up here is that they’ve got big crowds, excitable crowds that really get behind the team and feed off any sense of weakness or hesitation in visiting teams.

“We’ve got an Irish team that’s going to try and put us under pressure and really get that crowd behind them.

“The fact that the Aviva hasn’t been full too many times in the last two years with Covid, I would say the noise levels will probably be at about 110 per cent, if there’s such a thing.”

Andy Farrell urges Ireland to ’embrace the privilege’

Ireland head coach Andy Farrell has reminded his players that playing the All Blacks is a privilege, and that they should treat the game with the respect it deserves.

Buoyant after a 60-5 thrashing of a lacklustre Japan, Farrell made just one change to the team from last weekend, a reflection on how well the team played.

“What a time to be alive, to be an Irish rugby player – the opportunity to play in front of a full house against the best team in the world,” said Farrell.

“This is where you want to be. We’re coming up against a different beast, we know that. It’s the challenge that we get excited about.”