All Blacks v USA: All Blacks harnessing grief from Sean Wainui tragedy for Eagles test

Coach Ian Foster says the All Blacks have rallied around one another during a testing week in the US capitol, as the squad collectively processes the news of Sean Wainui's tragic death.

On Monday, the promising Chiefs and Maori All Blacks player was killed in a car crash near Tauranga at just 25 years old, leaving behind his wife and two young children.

Wainui's rugby reach - spanning from the Crusaders to the Chiefs, Taranaki to the Bay of Plenty - means he's well known to many of the All Blacks squad involved in the current northern tour.

Compounding that sense of loss has been their distance from home, and the players have united to work through the grief which has affected the entire group, both players and staff, as they prepare to face USA on Sunday (NZ time).

"It's impacted on everyone," says Foster. "When people lose a mate and particularly someone who's really close to a whole lot of these players.

"We're feeling for the family back home particularly. We're a small part of the rugby fraternity that's all hurting.

"In our own way, being away from home has impacted on a lot of the players. So, just getting them together and just allowing them to go through a process together I think has been key."

All Blacks v USA: All Blacks harnessing grief from Sean Wainui tragedy for Eagles test

Earlier in the week, assistant coach John Plumtree stressed any player not feeling mentally ready to play due to Wainui's passing would be happily excused from the match against the Eagles.

Foster believes the players will use the tragedy as added motivation come Sunday.

"I think there's a real determination to make sure we harness that energy and use it," Foster says.

There doesn't appear to be any evidence of voluntary withdrawals in Foster's gameday squad for this weekend, which he announced on Friday.

Loose forward Luke Jacobson is the only starter remaining from the last All Blacks' starting side to take the field against South Africa in the Rugby Championship finale earlier this month.

Foster says his selections were largely based on balancing workloads and providing opportunities for those who didn't see much action in the initial Australian leg of their 12-week rugby odyssey, which will continue to the UK after Sunday's test.

"We're really cognisant of making sure we don't have players who have too big a gap between games as they sort of lose the ability to put their hand up later in the tour," he notes. 

"That's been a key factor in this group. A number of guys who have joined us later in the tour or joined us here, we are keen to get them on the park, get them some game time."

Three first-time test starters have been named - prop Ethan de Groot, halfback Finlay Christie, and centre Braydon Ennor - while lock Josh Lord is poised to earn his first test cap off the bench.

The announcement Lord - with just less than a handful of appearances for Taranaki and the Chiefs under his belt - would join the touring squad as an injury replacement prompted double-takes from fans across the country.

While he admits Lord is a work in progress, Foster insists he's seen enough from the towering 20-year-old project  - who's had the ideal roommate/mentor in Sam Whitelock - to feel confident in thrusting him into the cauldron of test rugby.

"He's settled in really, really well," says Foster. "He just seems to be a day-at-a-time type of man and I love that. He just focuses on what he needs to do today, not trying to overcomplicate things. He's a confident young man. 

"He was selected on the basis that we could start working with him and see where we feel we can get him and we've seen nothing to contradict that."

Join Newshub for live updates of the All Blacks v USA Eagles from 8:30am Sunday.