Lions tour: Assistant coach Ian Foster confident depleted All Blacks midfield will deliver
While the All Blacks midfield resources may appear to be relatively stretched, assistant coach Ian Foster is comfortable they still have plenty of quality to call upon for Saturday's decisive third Test against the British and Irish Lions.
The hosts will be without Sonny Bill Williams after his four-week ban for a shoulder charge, joining fellow regular Ryan Crotty on the sideline nursing a hamstring strain which forced him from the field in the opening Test.
Despite the apparent challenges both injury and suspension have forced upon them, Foster was confident they'd put in the requisite planning for such situations.
"We have got a number of options in that midfield," he told media at a press conference on Tuesday.
"It goes to show, you’ve really got to make sure you're preparing a group of four or five at all stages just do be ready to play.
"Yes, there's been some reshuffling and that brings its challenges, but our expectations are that whoever goes out there plays at a top level, whether it's their first test or 5oth test."
Winger Waisake Naholo is also yet to be cleared to play, as he works his way through the concussion protocol since being left shaken by a Sean O'Brien shoulder.
Highlanders centre Malakai Fekitoa joined the All Blacks camp on Monday and Foster confirmed he'd be in the frame for a starting berth, with the side working through various starting combinations at Tuesday's training.
First-choice winger Rikeo Ioane was another ear-marked for a potential run in the No. 13 jersey.
"There was a little bit of chopping changing around today but we got a pretty good idea.
Foster also singled out the performance of debutant Ngani Laumape, who he believed proved his mettle in the international arena in what were exceptionally testing circumstances.
"What a tough way to start your Test career, having to come in and do your role and a little bit of someone else's.
"While he'll be disappointed with the result he should be pretty proud of what he did out there…he was still able to express himself and do what he loves doing.
"We like to think were really smart and have a great plan – last year we ended up bringing Anton in and he was a bit of a revelation.
"All we can really do is prepare everyone to the best of their ability, give them an opportunity and leave it up to them."
The All Blacks' first home loss in almost 50 Tests certainly stung, but the focus must remain firmly on the positives and the significant room remaining for improvement, said Foster.
"We've done some really good stuff in the past two weeks, but it's pretty clear and obvious that there's more in us.
"We were dealt a set of circumstances that we haven’t had to deal with for a long, long time.
"I'm sure they're pretty comfortable with the result, but it's not all doom and gloom for us."