Lions tour: Samoa clash ideal for returning All Blacks ahead of Lions tour
The All Blacks will use Friday's clash with Samoa as their sole opportunity before next weekend's first British and Irish Lions Test to get some running into the underdone legs of key players.
A horde of All Blacks regulars have been under injury clouds at their respective Super Rugby franchises in 2017, from Test titans Kieran Read and Jerome Kaino to the likes of Ben Smith, Aaron Cruden and Sonny Bill Williams.
With Read, Cruden, Ryan Crotty, Dane Coles and Liam Squire already ruled out of Friday's match at Eden Park, assistant coach Ian Foster said recent injury returnees would get the chance to bed into Test footy.
That virtually assures Kaino, Smith, Williams, Brodie Retallick and Beauden and Scott Barrett matchday roles against Samoa.
In what is the All Blacks' only mid-year Test outside of the Lions series, it may also spell debuts for Hurricanes duo Ngani Laumape and Jordie Barrett.
Highlanders trio Lima Sopoaga, Waisake Naholo and Liam Coltman will shake off the cobwebs against the Lions on Tuesday, while Tawera Kerr-Barlow and Akira and Rieko Ioane will join the the Maori All Blacks camp.
"It's been based on the guys we think actually need a bit of a hit-out, and we've clearly got a few guys playing tonight in Dunedin and released some to go to Rotorua on Saturday," Foster told reporters.
"It's just a chance to give some a hit-out, and build some combinations."
The All Blacks convened for their Test camp in Auckland on Sunday, and have since busied themselves with training, analysis and team meetings.
Foster, who said the week was loaded with work for both players and coaches, wanted everyone on the same page before Friday's match.
A solid performance was crucial before the Lions Tests.
"If you think about it, I know everyone's talking about the big (Lions) battle around the corner and I guess our mentality is that the best way to prepare for a battle is to have a battle," Foster said.
"There's a lot of pressure on us, but generally I feel that's when we're at our best and that's what we've got to keep focused on.
"It's about putting some detail in our team."