All Blacks young guns Jack Goodhue and Anton Lienert-Brown have been backed to provide the firepower to shoots down Ireland in their World Cup quarter-final showdown.
Steve Hansen has opted to go with the 24-year-olds for Saturday’s clash in Tokyo over more experienced campaigners Sonny Bill Williams and Ryan Crotty.
New Zealand assistant coach Ian Foster admits it was a tough call, especially with double World Cup winner Williams back on top form.
But Hansen’s right-hand man is confident that Crusaders protege Goodhue and Chiefs midfielder Lienert-Brown are the men to unlock Joe Schmidt’s team.
He said: “We’ve always had a plan in mind to some degree, but it’s how you train and how you play that have also got a major say in selection. It’s one thing for coaches to have a long-term plan but we’ve got to assess that weekly.
“So it’s been a tough decision in midfield and it’s a tough decision not so much who to put in but who to leave out. We would have been quite happy with all four of them in those 12 and 13 jerseys. We just felt for this game that Albie (Lienert-Brown) is playing really well at the moment, full of energy.
“Jack has come back from a hamstring and has got back to the level we know he can play at. We like the combination but at the same time we’ve got Sonny there and he’s probably playing the best I’ve seen him play for 12 to 18 months, there’s a lot of energy there too.
“And Crotts did a great job against South Africa. So we’ve got some good choices. But for whatever reason we just think these two for this one. We think they can get us off to a great start.”
New Zealand are on the hunt for their third straight World Cup title and fourth overall. Ireland, on the other hand, have never made it past the quarter-finals but Foster admits past experiences will not make it any easier for his team as they come up against a side that have come out on top in two of their three previous meetings.
He said: “We’ve been here before and we’ve handled those moments. I guess Ireland have been in a lot of quarter-finals too.
“Knock-out Rugby is about fronting up on the day and executing under that sort of pressure. We’ve been there but it doesn’t make it any easier just because you have the knowledge of what’s at stake.”
Sam Whitelock was one of the All Blacks’ heroes of both their 2011 and 2015 triumphs. And he admits challenges like Saturday’s are the reason he first picked up a ball as a child.
The 31-year-old lock said: “These games are why we play Rugby. These games are the ones when you’re a little kid in the back yard you dream about. You always wanted to take the winning drop goal – but I don’t think that will be me.
“That’s the cool thing for us as players and coaches we’re getting to live those dreams, those wet, cold days when you’re told to go outside because you’re annoying mum and dad. We’re getting to live that reality so it’s pretty awesome.”
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