All Blacks v Fiji: Selectors still pondering selections as Bledisloe Cup, Rugby Championship loom

Just under a month out from the first Bledisloe Cup test of 2021, All Blacks assistant coach John Plumtree admits the selectors are still unsure about their best team.

New Zealand have started the season with two hefty wins - an 102-0 trouncing of Tonga and an at-times shaky 57-23 win over Fiji last Saturday night.

As the team prepare for the second test against Fiji in Hamilton, Plumtree says the intensity has lifted as players make their case for selection.

And for the selectors, that's a good thing, as they look to improve week to week with the Bledisloe Cup and Rugby Championship campaign imminent. 

"There is real competition in the group and some positions we are not settled on,” Plumtree says of the squad. “There are also some combinations we would like to get going. 

"We are still unsure about some selections and that's fantastic for us, because we know we have some quality right through the team and the boys are fighting hard - in the pack and in the backs. That’s really healthy for us and the selection meetings are going on for hours, which is great."

The All Blacks took a hammering at the breakdown in Dunedin from a combative Fijian loose-forward trio that won several turnovers and penalties throughout the 80 minutes.

Plumtree expects to see significant improvement in that area of the game from his charges on Saturday night, admitting the players were below par and a little under-prepared for the Fijian assault.

"There is some stuff going on around the breakdown that we have to be a bit smarter with, and certainly the Fijian side has our attention now and we are expecting a pretty tough test.

"You have to give Fiji credit. They have some big boys in their pack and they really tested us in some areas, which was good for us and exactly what we want going into Australia.

"There were some areas where we got tested and there were some things we hadn't covered properly, but now those little things we have addressed and we are expecting more out of the boys."

But Plumtree wouldn't confirm if the side selected for the second test will be the best team available. Indeed, the selectors are still undecided on several positions within the 23.

"The opportunity is there for us, if we want to, but to be honest, we don't know what that looks like yet.

"We still have a few players unavailable and some of these guys need more time than others. 

"Some of these guys had big ‘Super’ campaigns, while some of the guys are carrying little niggles. We put those factors into place and then select the team. 

"We just need to make sure we keep player wellbeing in the back of our minds and, by the time of Bledisloe I, we have a full squad that is fit and ready to play.

"The idea is that, by the time we finish this series, we have been through everything and the players have got everything, and they can have a break to absorb everything, which they will have after this game."

Plumtree confirmed flanker Ardie Savea and midfield back Anton Lienert-Brown are likely to be available for selection for the first time in the campaign.

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