New Zealand Rugby made 40 staff redundant as a result of the Covid-19 financial squeeze, along with wage cuts across the board. The trickle-down effect means the All Blacks squad naming next month will be different, and potentially awkward, reports Liam Napier.
Lock in August 30 for Ian Foster's first All Blacks squad reveal.
The unusual set of circumstances that is 2020 and the Covid-19 pandemic has forced the new All Blacks head coach to constantly change plans as uncertainty over the test schedule prevailed, but he has now settled on the day following the North versus South match to name his first squad.
With 56 hopefuls set to square off in that fixture scheduled for Eden Park, and Foster set to name an extended All Blacks squad of up to 35 players the next day, it will leave some awkward scenes and difficult post-match conversations to be had.
It's not quite 2011, when the All Blacks sent players who missed their World Cup squad home from South Africa while those who made the cut instead travelled to Brisbane for the tournament team naming, but there will again be many mixed emotions swirling when news is delivered to individuals.
"If you talk to some of the old timers, often the All Blacks squad was named at the after-match function. We're not doing that, but we are going to name the All Blacks squad the morning after. It's going to be a new thing for us," Foster told the Herald this week.
"We're going to have a whole lot of players around. Some of them are going to have to pack up and go home, and some of them are going to stay for a week as we do a bit of work. That's a new thing for us to have to deal with.
"It's a year we've got to adapt and adjust. In some ways it's nice to go back to a couple of old-school ways of doing things but we're going to have to make sure we're really clear in how we communicate with people and how we use that time wisely after the game.
"It's always an amazing feeling when someone finds out they're in the All Blacks, and it's always incredibly disappointing when they find out they're not, and we've got to be sensitive to that.
"It's certainly going to add a bit of spice to the occasion."
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With New Zealand Rugby making 40 staff redundant as a result of the Covid-19 financial squeeze, and wage cuts issued across the board to players, coaches and administrators, Foster said naming the All Blacks in this manner would help save money.
"When you look at the time, costs and logistics of assembling an All Blacks team, this was the best way. We're in a time where we're trying to use money wisely and make sensible decisions. We're bound by the same fiscal stuff as everyone else."
Under the expectation the All Blacks could face a flurry of tests from October through to possibly as late as December, Foster intends to select more players than usual.
"We're likely to take a slightly bigger squad. It might be 35. There is a chance we're going to play a reasonably large number of consecutive test matches as time runs out later in the year. If most of our tests are in New Zealand or Australia we've got the ability to drop people back into the Mitre 10 Cup and we're really keen to keep that relationship strong this year.
"We're better to have a few more players, do the work early, and make it easier to bring people back in. If we do have a number of consecutive tests we're going to need a sizeable squad."
While the Southern Hemisphere-hosted July tests were postponed this year because of border restrictions, Foster is upbeat about the prospect of four Bledisloe Cup tests against Dave Rennie's Wallabies, and a Rugby Championship competition in some form thereafter.
The opening Bledisloe Cup test is expected to take place on October 10 in Wellington.
"Playing a four-test series, that's clearly in our plans. It's getting our timing right with our domestic competitions and when we're actually able to go. We're monitoring Australia's situation closely and working with Government to see what that looks like.
"We're part of the Rugby Championship and we've got South Africa and Argentina who are hurting at the moment from a domestic sense. We're really hopeful they can start playing domestically at some stage maybe in August which would allow us to consider the Rugby Championship in some form possibly in the late October-to-November period.
"Where that is it's likely there's some structure between Australia and New Zealand if it happens. Whether it's all in one country, all in the other, or split - we're not sure yet. There are some exciting fixtures potentially coming.
"We could go from a famine to a feast when it comes to international rugby or it might not, but we're preparing for lots of test matches in a very short time period."
The prospect of Rennie, the dual title-winning Chiefs coach, guiding a new-look Wallabies side is certain to add another layer of intrigue for fans starved of test rugby this year.
"It's scripted well isn't it? It would be a great way for us to start. The rivalry is strong. We missed out on the World Cup last year but the Bledisloe remains at the top of our pecking order.
"There will be no shortage of motivation and with Dave there we know him well and he's a great coach. I'm sure he'll do a great job over there and they've got Scott Johnson as director of rugby. I know they're working hard to get Australian rugby united and working closely together.
"We're clear they'll be a pretty strong challenge."