Rugby World Cup: All Blacks first XV spots still up for grabs as Ian Foster shuffles deck to face Uruguay

All Blacks coach Ian Foster has made it clear: There are still places up for grabs in his first choice 23, following the naming of his team for their final at the Rugby World Cup pool match against Uruguay.  

As expected, captain Sam Cane returns to start at openside flanker as one of nine changes made to the team that thumped Italy.  

The other feature is the inclusion of Tyrel Lomax - named to start for the first time since suffering that horrific leg injury against South Africa.

Sam Cane.
Sam Cane. Photo credit: Getty Images

While in the reserves, loose forward Ethan Blackadder gets his chance to impress in what will be his first appearance at the tournament since being called up as an injury replacement.

What's clear though, is Friday represents one last chance for others in the squad to stake a claim to be involved in the knockout stages of the tournament.  

Uruguay represents a final pool play hit out with a new feel, as Foster opted for change over cohesion, to prioritise rest ahead of the knockout stages.  

Foster feels he's found balance by ringing in nine changes to his starting side, hoping for fresh legs when quarter-final time arrives.    

"We had a two-week break, and we delivered the performance against Italy," he said. "So, we believe that there are some players that respond to that."   

Ardie Savea is one of those. Having featured in every game so far, Foster wants his No.8 on ice before the business end kicks off.   

The same can be said for Aaron Smith. Cam Roigard has been handed a second start in his absence, and a chance to further cement his role as his deputy. 

Cam Roigard against Namibia.
Cam Roigard against Namibia. Photo credit: Photosport

"We're all competing for spots," he said. "Nothing is guaranteed."

While some players will no doubt hope to stake a claim for inclusion when the quarter-finals arrive, the reality is Foster has long been set on the majority of his first choice XV.   

But competition in some positions remains tight, and the selection needle can still shift.

"There are spots, where guys can put their hand up," he added.   

Leicester Faniga'anuku could be one to do that, with his versatility about to be put to the test.    

Named to start on the left wing, the 23-year-old will also provide midfield cover in the absence of a specialist on the bench.   

"I've been consistently covering that, week in, week out," he assured. "[I'm] making sure I've got the toolbox to be able to adjust my game when I do get the opportunity to slip in."

Foster will be hoping it's a seamless transition, with an eye clearly on what's to come.   

"We want to do well [against Uruguay], and then we want three more games."   

And Foster hopes a dose of rest and rotation can help the All Blacks achieve that.   

Join Newshub from 8am Friday for live updates of the All Blacks v Uruguay