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All Blacks coach Ian Foster confident he will make Ireland match after Covid-19

New Zealand head coach Ian Foster has endured a disrupted build up to facing Ireland (Niall Carson/PA)
New Zealand head coach Ian Foster has endured a disrupted build up to facing Ireland (Niall Carson/PA)

New Zealand head coach Ian Foster joked he was unsure whether he was “sick or nervous” after suffering cold sweats and sleepless nights ahead of the first Test with Ireland following a positive Covid-19 test.

Foster expects to be in attendance at a sold-out Eden Park in Auckland for Saturday’s series opener on the back of disrupted preparation carried out remotely.

Coronavirus has swept through the All Blacks camp, with assistant coaches John Plumtree, Scott McLeod and Greg Feek also forced to isolate, in addition to players David Havili, Jack Goodhue and Will Jordan.

“As long as things go well and I stay the way I’m staying then the answer to that is ‘yes’,” Foster told a press conference, when asked if he will be at the match.

“I was one of those ones that was pretty lucky really.

“The first two nights were cold sweats and sleepless nights, so that’s pretty normal for an All Blacks head coach before the first Test of the year. I wasn’t quite sure if I was sick or nervous!

“I’ve actually got through it pretty lightly to be fair and maybe being a little bit distracted with something else on my mind has helped me.”

Foster’s team selection includes a debut for Crusaders wing Leicester Fainga’anuk and regular second-rower Scott Barrett picked at blindside flanker for the first time since the 2019 World Cup.

Openside flanker Sam Cane captains the hosts, while lock Sam Whitelock will surpass Keven Mealamu as the second most-capped All Black Test player after being selected for his 133rd Test.

Whitelock’s fellow Test centurions Aaron Smith and Beauden Barrett form the half-back partnership.

Former Ireland boss Joe Schmidt, who was scheduled to join New Zealand’s setup after the series, has been in camp to assist with preparations due to the enforced absences among the coaching team.

Foster admits there have been plenty of alterations to his plans.

Asked how many times he has redone the team sheet, the 57-year-old said: “A lot – and that’s just with the management team. Clearly it’s been intriguing.

“Quite frankly people are getting used to communicating and being communicated to by Zoom so it’s something that we talked about may happen.

“I didn’t really want it to be me that got snipered first but that’s the way it worked.

Former Ireland head coach Joe Schmidt joined the All Blacks coaching setup earlier than planned
Former Ireland head coach Joe Schmidt joined the All Blacks coaching setup earlier than planned (Adam Davy/PA)

“It hasn’t been easy preparing a Test team from home and I’ve probably got to apologise to my wife for my behaviour for the last four days.

“Between that and the rolling-the-sleeves up attitude of our leaders, I think we’ve just done it collectively. Hey, it’s not the way we planned but it doesn’t mean it can’t be equally effective.

“We’re excited with the team we’re putting out. It doesn’t change the statement we want to put out.”

New Zealand team: J Barrett (Hurricanes); S Reece (Crusaders), R Ioane (Blues), Q Tupaea (Chiefs), L Fainga’anuku (Crusaders); B Barrett (Blues), A Smith (Highlanders); G Bower (Crusaders), C Taylor (Crusaders), O Tu’ungafasi (Blues), B Retallick (Chiefs), S Whitelock (Crusaders), S Barrett (Crusaders), S Cane (Chiefs, capt), A Savea (Hurricanes).

Replacements: S Taukei’aho (Chiefs), K Tu’inukuafe (Blues), A Ta’avao (Chiefs), P G Sowakula (Chiefs), D Papalii (Blues), F Christie (Blues), R Mo’unga (Crusaders), B Ennor (Crusaders).