Although New Zealand are overwhelming favourites to get the better of Italy in Friday’s Rugby World Cup clash in Lyon, Ian Foster will not be underestimating their opponents.
The two sides head into their crunch Pool A encounter with the Azzurri sitting in second position on the table – behind pacesetters France – with 10 points while the All Blacks are in third spot on five points.
Both sides have played two matches so far with Italy claiming bonus-point victories over Namibia and Uruguay while the All Blacks lost their opening game to Les Bleus – who have played three games already – before thrashing the Welwitschias.
Foster responded to claims from the Azzurri camp in which they said they expect the All Blacks to try and bully them on Friday.
Not disrespecting the Azzurri
“That’s rugby, everyone is trying to do that,” said the three-time world champions’ head coach. “They’ll be trying to do that to us. It’s a physical game. It’s not a lack of respect from anyone.
“Both teams, there’s a lot at stake. This was always going to be a game we knew we had to get excited about and play well in.
“The good thing is that we are playing a team that is confident, so there are no surprises. They’ve earned that. The last two years, we’ve seen a lot of growth in their game.
“I made the point after the Six Nations, that they were one of the highlights of the Six Nations, the way they played and the competitiveness of all their games.”
Foster said that statistic meant nothing ahead of Friday’s clash.
“History means nothing,” he added. “History is yesterday’s newspaper, isn’t it, not tomorrow’s.”
Also back from injury and returning via the replacements bench will be regular captain Sam Cane (openside flanker) and tighthead prop Tyrel Lomax. It will be the first game of the tournament for the four players.
Foster said the All Blacks’ week in Bordeaux had been ideal for getting those players up to match readiness for what is a crucial game towards clinching a quarter-final place.
“I’m confident with Shannon and Jordie. We’ve been able to get them in the starting line-up,” he said. “With Tyrel, there is a good chance for him to get some time under his belt off the bench. We all know how much we rate him.
“With Sam, he needed to tick a few boxes at the first two training sessions this week, which is why we gave him time to do that, by starting him off the bench.”
Keen to see Frizell in action
He is looking forward to Frizell building towards the sort of form he displayed in the Rugby Championship Test against South Africa in Auckland earlier this year.
“He’s brought, in many ways, a simplicity to his game,” said Foster. “He’s focusing on the quality of his ball carry, the quality of his tackle and his connections with the likes of Ardie (Savea) and Sam, and now Dalton (Papali’i) this week.
“He’s improved his work-rate and he’s improved his quality in those two areas, and that’s all we want out of him for Friday.”