Springbok challenge remains for All Blacks

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Lynn McConnell     12 Sep 2017     Getty Images

The sides meet in Albany on Saturday in the fourth of their Investec Rugby Championship games.

"There's just something about it. It's pretty special to be involved with the All Blacks when they're playing South Africa. Your mind conjures up some of the great games of the past and the great rivalries and this is no different for us.

"It's a country we've got massive respect for, for the way they play their rugby and you've got to take your hat off to the way they've rebounded from last year and just changed quite dramatically within a very short time period. Clearly they've got a youthful team that really look like they want to play for each other and that's a dangerous beast," he said.

Foster said the Springboks had been impressive across all their games this year and they looked to be trying to play more rugby.

"We are expecting them to want to play but I would imagine they will look at last week and use the aerial ball more than they might have anticipated and, again, that is a risk reward for them too because if we do what we want to do with those high balls then we've got great opportunity to attack as well. It's a two-edged sword that tactic," he said.

Foster backed the play of first five-eighths Beauden Barrett. He was still, by world standards, a young man and had been doing a 'fantastic job' of running the team around.

"Is he perfect? No he's not. Is every moment going to be brilliant? No it's not, but he's learning the art of 10 [first five-eighths] and all the adjustments he's got to do in terms of running a game: his depth, his own little skills set and the decisions and listening. That's not the easiest position but I think he's doing a great job and I think Lima [Sopoaga] did a great job too. 

"He came on and probably had the most influential time he's had in the black jersey in the way he guided the team around so it's not just one person, they're a couple of people working hard in that position and hopefully we get better and better," he said.

Flanker Vaea Fifita missed training on Tuesday due to a bruised shoulder but was expected to be available for consideration when the team is named on Thursday. Wing Israel Dagg didn't train also to rest his knee.

Asked about the difference in quality between the efforts of last year and this year, Foster said different personnel were involved and the All Blacks were trying to change their game in some aspects but with longer-term things in mind.

"We're making sure we don't stand still and often you have to go through a little pain when you do that. We've probably had to deal with more changes in our team this year than I think we have had for a number of years and that has required changes to be made to our XV on the park and that takes a little while to bed that in but apart from that some of the key principles are the same," he said.

"We're trying to play what's in front of us based on what the opposition is giving us a chance to play. Our high points are really high and we've probably got a few more low points that we'd like spread in the middle of them. Overall, the game stats are reasonably consistent to last year but we just need to string more good moments together," he said.

In the three Rugby Championship games to date there had been some good points: they were scoring tries, performing well defensively, the set-piece had moved on since June and there had been some good growth, but it wasn't consistent over an 80-minute period, he said.

All teams were trying different things to change their game and that affected defensive plans as much as anything. The All Blacks were probably playing with a little more ball in the hand than before which had produced its own rewards while also exposing some problems.

That was what was special about the Championship, he said, teams challenged the All Blacks in different ways and that was helpful to the growth of the team who learned as a result of being made uncomfortable and figuring out ways of coping.