Spring Internationals: Aotearoa vs England Second Test Preview

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Aotearoa Kiwis coach is keeping his squad selections super simple so far on their tour of England as he has named the same squad of 19 for the second Test. As we saw last week, this won't exactly result in the same team of 17 taking the field though as Adam Blair dropped out of the team and was replaced by Joseph Tapine in a selection move that played a minor role in not quite getting the best out of this Kiwis team.

Two notes…

1) Kodi Nikorima led the haka in Blair’s absence, an honour for a younger squad member.

2) Jamayne Isaako has joined the squad in England after being in Brisbane for the birth of his child, doesn’t make the squad though.

At the time, there wasn't much clarity around why Blair didn't play but he apparently picked up a late injury. This goes a long way to explain why Joseph Tapine only played 7 minutes in the first Test, influenced by the fact that Tapine missed the back end of the NRL season through injury and didn't play any footy leading into this tour. With Blair unavailable, Maguire slid Tapine into the 17 and probably did so merely as cover, not to truly use Tapine as a weapon off the bench.

With this in mind, no one really knows what team will take the field until Maguire narrows it down to 17 lads. If Tapine is fit and firing, he could offer size, mobility and skill to the edge or the middle, or we could see Maguire switch his style up and not carry a utility in Kenny Bromwich on the bench, or find a way to inject Jahrome Hughes into the mix. I'm not saying any of those things will happen, this is simply about having no idea how Maguire is thinking.

What the Kiwis lacked in the first Test, Blair offers and while Blair never fills out his stat-sheet with huge numbers, his presence and intangible contributions are influential. Blair's experience may help steer the Kiwis away from the attempted razzle dazzle footy that hindered the Kiwis chances in the first Test, his presence may also however help spark the Kiwis into attack with ball-movement, strong decoy runs and the offloads.

Last week, the Kiwis went to their razzle dazzle without moving England around, or manipulating the defence. There is nuance here because it's not so much about laying the platform through the middle, this is about laying the platform through working England over and then using the razzle dazzle to amp the attack up. The first Test saw the Kiwis push the case with the hectic footy, resorting to the last option too early and with an English defensive that played a role in limiting the attacking options, the Kiwis drifted away from what had to be done.

Blair plays a small role in all of that, he'll come off the bench along with Martin Taupau and spark the ball movement. He'll take over from Jared Waerea-Hargreaves who has played as first-receiver a lot in the Spring Internationals, moving the footy on to play-makers and Blair will place Sam Tomkins and George Williams under greater pressure when they kick.

There shouldn't be much need for any other team changes from Maguire as there weren't any issues with individuals, or balance in the team last week. When the Kiwis did what they were supposed to in the first half, they scored points easily with structured attacking moves and when England started to take the game to the trenches, Aotearoa got a tad flustered.

Boil that down and you're left with a Kiwis team who got a hefty dose of international football against a strong international team, who unlike Australia, have been together under Wayne Bennett for a while now at this level. When England turned the screws, Aotearoa were unable to recognise what was happening and went about fighting back the wrong way.

The key shift for the second Test needs to come in sticking to the script laid down by Maguire and understanding the flow of the game. Regardless of who takes the field for Aoteraoa, being patient and composed when England settle into their set-for-set style is what will grace the Kiwis with a win. Trying to manufacture a style as the Kiwis did in the first Test, will only work in England's favour as they slow the game down, ramp up the simplicity and frustrate Aotearoa.

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Peace and love 27.