Beleaguered New Zealand coach Ian Foster insists his side are still evolving as they face South Africa in a second Rugby Championship fixture at Ellis Park on Saturday, potentially his last test in charge of the All Blacks.
If the court of public opinion back home was both judge and jury, Foster may leave the job whatever the result at the weekend but it is certainly hard to see his position being tenable in the face of another loss, with the All Blacks having been beaten in five of their last six tests.
“I’ve said this group is still evolving and these experiences are absolute gold for us. We don’t like not winning but the reality is we’re getting some clear markers against a very good team,” a defiant Foster told reporters on Thursday.
Springboks hope to extend the All Blacks’ losing skid:
He has dropped flyhalf Beauden Barrett to the bench and brought in Richie Mo’unga as a replacement, while he also tinkered in the pack with loose-forward Shannon Frizell and props Tyrel Lomax and Ethan de Groot coming into the starting XV.
“Richie’s trained really well and contributed massively behind the scenes and it’s a chance to switch around,” Foster said.
The All Blacks were second best in every facet of the game in the first test in Nelspruit, a 26-10 victory for the Springboks that was their biggest over the old enemy in 94 years.
The Boks have also made changes to their starting line-up at their traditional fortress, though two were forced as Jesse Kriel comes in on the wing for the suspended Kurt-Lee Arendse, while Jaden Hendrikse is at scrumhalf after Faf de Klerk was concussed in the opening minute in Nelspruit.
The return of number eight Duane Vermeulen after knee surgery further bolsters their pack.
“Duane has a massive presence on the field and there is no bigger game for him to make his comeback from injury than facing the All Blacks,” Bok coach Jacques Nienaber said.
“He is an enforcer on attack and defence and we know he will give everything against a physical All Blacks team that are desperate to bounce back strongly from a challenging run of results.”
Nienaber admits his side are braced for an All Black backlash.
“New Zealand are similar to the Springboks in the sense that they do not give up,” he said.
“They have quality players within their ranks and given the rich history between the sides and their desperation to turn things around after a few disappointing results, we know we are in for a massive challenge.”