New Zealand explain line-up tweaks to combat South Africa’s bench impact

The All Blacks’ scrum will have to perform if they are to beat South Africa

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New Zealand coach Ian Foster has revealed that he feels a couple of subtle tweaks to his squad for Saturday’s Rugby World Cup final will be enough to match South Africa’s “bomb squad”.

The Springboks have loaded up on bench forward might for the showpiece Paris decider, including seven pack replacements in their 23.

The seven/one bench split was a gambit first employed in South Africa’s strong warm-up win over New Zealand at Twickenham in August, with the replacement pack brought on together and immediately win a scrum penalty.

But rather than matching their opponents and including extra forwards among their bench eight, the All Blacks have kept faith with a traditional five/three combination.

Coach Foster has made a couple of personnel changes among those five replacement forwards, though, with veteran lock Sam Whitelock dropped to the bench and tighthead prop Nepo Laulala brought in at Fletcher Newell’s expense.

All Blacks props Nepo Laulala, Tamaiti Williams and Tyrel Lomax will be key to the final

And Foster feels his side are fully equipped to defuse any potential bench impact.

“It is certainly a response [to the Springboks’ bench],” Foster confirmed of his tweaks. “Not so much a response to the power, but more to the techniques we expect to have to deal with.

“Nepo is a very strong scrummager and very experienced. He’s trained so well and has probably been disappointed that he didn’t play the last two. It is a great occasion for him.

“He’s alongside Samisoni [Taukei’aho], with the likes of Sam Whitelock on the bench, we really believe and have got a lot of confidence in that group coming on.”

The final should present a fascinating clash of styles, with Handre Pollard’s selection at fly half ahead of Manie Libbok another indicator of South Africa’s preference for a tighter game.

That contrasts with the All Blacks’ ability to keep the ball alive and play wide, ambitious rugby.

“That’s what I love about the game,” Foster said. “People play different ways and try different things. [South Africa] have got their way that they think suits their strength.

“The [seven/one split] doesn’t really change anything in what we do. It doesn’t impact our game and the way we want to play it. Our strategy suits us, their strategy suits them. It makes it interesting on Saturday night.”

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