Ian Foster brushed off the cakewalk nature of the All Blacks' victory over the USA to suggest several players enhanced their cases for selection against Wales next week.
In the first stop on their five-match northern tour the All Blacks humbled the USA 104-14 at FedEx Field in Maryland on Sunday morning (NZT), running in 16 tries to two as they amassed their third-highest points tally of all time.
The All Blacks claimed their first try after 29 seconds and led 59-7 at halftime, such was their dominance against the world No 17.
Despite the mismatch raising immediate questions about the gulf in class between the two teams, and the merits of staging such a blowout, Foster welcomed the chance to hand fringe players experience and reintroduce returning veterans Dane Coles and Sam Cane from the bench in the second half.
"This game was vital for us," Foster said. "We've got a number of players who haven't played for three to four weeks so it's a great chance to have a good hit out and to do it in a special stadium is pretty valuable.
"We go to Wales next week with a bit of contact under our belt and I'm delighted with some of the skills we were able to put on the park. It gives us a good launching pad for what's going to be a big month.
"I felt our handling, some of our passing and support work went up a step from the Rugby Championship. I wouldn't underestimate being able to give a number of new players – in the pack six out of the eight had played fewer than 10 tests – so it's a good experience for them to feel what it's like to be an All Black in different situations, and there's going to be plenty over those in the next four weeks."
The All Blacks sent an advanced party of 11 players to Cardiff 24 hours before the USA match.
That group included Brodie Retallick, Rieko Ioane, David Havili, Nepo Laulala, Codie Taylor, Joe Moody, Shannon Frizell, Ethan Blackadder, Ofa Tuungafasi, Akira Ioane and Jordie Barrett.
Most of that contingent, other than Frizell who is carrying a shoulder complaint, will be expected to start against Wales. Blackadder and Akira Ioane are likely to go head-to-head for the blindside role.
Foster, however, hinted those who staked claims against the USA would come into contention.
"As a group of selectors we went into that game looking at three or four positions specifically. I was really pleased with the performance of the team and there were some players who showed they want to play and that's exciting for us."
While Foster was reluctant to elaborate further second five-eighth Quinn Tupaea shone among the fringe prospects with strong carries and sound decision-making. Halfback Finlay Christie and prop Ethan de Groot, both in their first test starts, loose forward Luke Jacobson, outside back Will Jordan - who claimed three tries - and lock Tupou Vaa'i were others to impress.
The All Blacks midfield remains highly contestable with Havili, Rieko Ioane, Anton Lienert-Brown, Tupaea and Braydon Ennor battling for game time.
"Quinn tidied up a lot of situations," Foster said. "He knows his game very well. He doesn't try to overplay his hand and sticks to what he does really well. He's quite creative with a lot of short passing. He draws defenders to him and he's able to get the ball away. He's a young man who is growing."
As for Richie Mo'unga, who kicked 9 of 12 conversions and jinked his way over for a try in his first test start since August 14, Foster said: "He showed some great moments with his feet and distribution, so pleased."
The emphatic result aside, Foster lamented the sloppy third quarter from the All Blacks after the bench was injected and they attempted to score from every play.
"It's nice as a coach to be grumpy about a few things," he said. "A bit of looseness came into our game, particularly from broken play. It looked like we'd watched too much NBA during the week and we were trying to make things up as we went along there for a while.
"The atmosphere here was pretty special. With the result sorted early there was a desire for people to express themselves and so we probably overplayed a number of situations but I kind of get that."
On the USA, Foster acknowledged the hosts were significantly hindered by the match falling outside the test window which forced six leading players to return to their European clubs.
Yet he believes Gary Gold's men will be better for the grim result.
"I know they'll be disappointed by the scoreline but in order for them to grow these sorts of games are very important to broaden their experience," Foster said. "They'll get a feel for what it's like at the next level and hopefully that inspires them to work a little bit harder and grow their game. The only way you do that is by exposing yourself to these sorts of occasions.
"They were a little bit shell shocked early and it took them a while to figure out they could play against us. That third quarter they showed a lot more of what they can do."