All questions have been answered as New Zealand Rugby confirm the November International fixture list for the All Blacks.
At the conclusion of The Rugby Championship in October, the World Champions will aim to restore an amount of lost pride after the British and Irish Lions drawn series.
With the dates now in concrete, fans of the New Zealand team from home and abroad can look forward to the traditional Northern Hemisphere v South Hemisphere battle to resume. With the gap closing between the challengers and the world’s number one rugby team, the scheduled five matches will be an even more important fixture list than usual.
New Zealand Rugby Confirm November International Fixture List
- November 4 – Barbarians; Twickenham, London
- November 11 – France; Stade de France, Paris
- November 14 – French XV Selection; Stade de Gerland, Lyon [midweek match]
- November 18 – Scotland; Murrayfield, Edinburgh
- November 25 – Wales; Principality Stadium, Cardiff
While this schedule alone may be an engaging end-of-year tour, it is added onto a test window in October that will see the All Blacks play matches in Argentina, South Africa and then Brisbane.
In layman’s terms – that is the equivalent of traveling around the world and being expected to perform in six test matches against the worlds best.
No easy task at all, but is it too ambitious?
Some might argue that it is a fixture list that is inconsistent with previous calls to reduce players workload.
Demand on Players Opposed to Calls to Reduce Workload
NZR’s Chief Executive Steve Tew made comments late in 2016 that suggested future Test schedules would see less matches played. 15 tests in a calendar year had been derided as too many and eventually that saw players speak out.
Player exhaustion was understood to be a key contributor. The collective agreement was aimed at managing such demands – as were player sabbaticals. Ben Smith has activated that clause, and leading players will each have to balance the toll that an end-of-year tour has on their welfare.
All Blacks fullback Ben Smith is expected to take a sabbatical and miss eight of the world champions' test matches later this year. pic.twitter.com/bwheveIGSU
— SuperSport (@SuperSportTV) July 16, 2017
The challenge for the All Blacks coaches is going to be managing the workloads of individuals and trying to grow the performances of the team. Fatigue is a common issue across all sports, so the size of the touring group is likely to be upwards of 35 players.
Added to that group in November will an ‘apprentice role’ – something which Jordie Barrett and Ardie Savea have graduated through.
It all makes for a tough ask. Not insurmountable, but one where players must be picked on their form, as well as looking ahead to the future.
Northern Hemisphere Rugby Will Test the All Blacks
If Steve Hansen can take his team through an arduous Rugby Championship, he might reach the third and final Bledisloe Cup test in Brisbane with a [possibly] unblemished record.
This final hurdle before focusing on the November Internationals fixture list has been a ‘banana skin’ in the past.
Once the October 21 match is accomplished, the players have a weeks break before assembling for the trip to north. And while a Barbarians clash can be seen as ‘festival rugby’ it is also a chance to blood new men.
Steve New told The Breakdown that the All Blacks are keen for additional matches on tour.
“We won’t be playing France midweek in a [full] test match But the coaches are looking for additional matches in a softer environment if you like.”
Those players who are on the fringe, or are seen as longterm prospects, should see game time during the November schedule. Senior players could be rested; that will add to those men’s recovery from previous matches.
New Zealand Could Reward Senior Players with Captaincy Roles
So with the opening match, you could imagine a Brodie Retallick (see below picture), Dane Coles, or Ryan Crotty being asked to lead a team of less experienced men to begin the tour.
New Zealand will have a focus on celebrating 125 years of NZR too – but it will also be about blooding new talent in a testing, yet not a Test Match environment.
With that November 4 fixture outside of the International Window, the next weeks game will be a much more difficult encounter. France will still be hurting from a 0-3 away series loss to South Africa. Guy Noves will use this game to repair that; as his men did well against the All Blacks in 2016.
Then the All Blacks take on the extra scheduled match. A midweek game against a French XV selection, This again, is ample opportunity to blood new players, so expect a different lineup in Lyon, to the one who run out onto Murrayfield on Saturday, November 18.
November International Fixture List Ends With Wales v New Zealand
The biggest encounter in the Northern Hemisphere rugby tour is Wales.
More specifically, Warren Gatland. The British and Irish Lions head coach saw his rating skyrocket after the drawn series. Not just because of the result, but for his ability to withstand the pressure.
Handling pressure, and being under the microscope of the International press is one factor which can unhinge the best coach. Many react poorly – Michael Cheika or Marc Lièvremont – but others excel under the intense scrutiny.
To their credit, Gatland and Hansen more recently, have become better accustomed to the pressures.
The Wales test match is the premier fixture of the November window, however fans and commentators will have been more engaged if the opponent was England. The biggest anticipated clash of nations, would be NZR v England Rugby. The number one and two ranked nations – but that is ‘off the negotiation list’ for now.
RFU chief executive Ian Ritchie is unluckly to miss being label uncompetitive, by not scheduling that clash. A long-standing clash of ideals, of gate takings, and of revenue, is poorly received by fans and rugby purists.
Still, when it does happen, that will hold unprecedented attention.
NZ Rugby Key Performance Indicators for November
The key performance indicator for players will be fitness and composure. For both International sides, the atmosphere in Cardiff will be electric. Management will be hopeful that the top 23 are peaking at this point, to reach the goal of the group.
Key men like Beauden Barrett, Joe Moody and Sam Cane to name but a few, must be managed during this November International fixture list. Being well prepared for the three test matches, after such a long domestic, and even harder International season, will be the ‘toughest test’. It will be hard, because of the internal pressures but as much as the evening of the field; to a degree.
The announcement of the November International fixture list is a relief for fans. That they can now look forward to higher competition, against several of the best sides in Northern hemisphere rugby.