All Blacks hooker Codie Taylor believes the team's upcoming series against Tonga and Fiji will be a good introduction for what's to come for the new players in the squad, with the All Blacks set for a bumper 2021.
The All Blacks are expected to play up to 15 tests by the end of the year, beginning this Friday against Tonga at Auckland's Mt Smart Stadium.
With two tests against Fiji to follow, before the Rugby Championship and planned tests against Wales, Ireland, Italy and France to round out the year, the next few weeks will provide plenty of opportunity for the new faces in the team to sink their teeth into the test environment.
"This series is a good stepping stone for what's to come around the Rugby Championship," Taylor said. "We've got South Africa back in that and at the moment they're the best in the world. Our goal is to be number one and we get an opportunity to, hopefully, play those boys and Aussie, and Argentina tipped us over last year.
"I think this first series is going to go a long way in giving those [new] boys confidence to give us a chance to make sure we're all gelling as a team because that Rugby Championship is going to be pretty tough."
The All Blacks named six uncapped players in their 36-man squad for the July series against Tonga and Fiji, while 18 of the 36 have played 10 tests of fewer.
Despite injuries to key players opening spots in the squad, the opportunity to introduce as many players to the environment will only benefit the All Blacks in the long run, both for the Rugby Championship in years to come and ultimately for the 2023 Rugby World Cup.
Taylor said the new faces in camp had been settling in well this week, and they didn't need much motivation to make the most of their time in the national set up.
"That's said every week around filling the jersey, just be you; be comfortable to be yourself in the new environment," Taylor said of the advice given to the new players in the squad. "That goes a long way into performing, and we're starting to see that with the young boys. They're getting pretty comfortable and as long as they're willing to work hard, I think they'll go well."
The possible 15 tests the All Blacks will play this season is almost 10 more than that of a year ago, with the All Blacks only having six outings in the Covid-19 impacted 2020 campaign.
"When you look back on last year, we didn't play a whole lot so I think it balances back out," Taylor said of the busy schedule. "The fact that we have nine tests at home makes it a bit easier – none in Christchurch, which is a bit unfortunate, so hopefully that can change one day.
"It is what it is. We're lucky enough to have family and management behind us; our kids and wives and all that can come up and watch the games. It will be tough when we go away, but it is what it is."
All Blacks with 10 test caps or fewer:
George Bridge - 10
Sevu Reece - 8
Brad Weber - 7
Tyrel Lomax - 6
Hoskins Sotutu - 5
Tupou Vaa'i - 4
Dalton Papalii - 4
David Havili - 3
Akira Ioane - 2
Luke Jacobson - 2
Will Jordan - 2
Asafo Aumua - 1
Braydon Ennor* - 1
George Bower - uncapped
Ethan de Groot - uncapped
Ethan Blackadder - uncapped
Finlay Christie - uncapped
Quinn Tupaea - uncapped
*Ruled out for the series due to appendicitis