All Blacks vs USA: Six to watch as Ian Foster's men launch their tour in DC – Stuff.co.nz

The All Blacks will play just their fifth official test match against the USA on Sunday (8.30am kickoff NZT) as they open their northern tour in Washington DC.
It’s a match they should win with ease as they start a run of five internationals in as many weeks to round out their 2021 programme. The Americans are fresh off a 34-15 defeat at Uruguay in a World Cup qualifying contest that saw the South Americans advance directly to France ’23, and are expected to be without some frontliners because the fixture falls outside the official international release window.
But there is still plenty to play for from an All Blacks’ perspective, with coach Ian Foster indicating he intends to give as many of his new faces as possible a run, include others who didn’t feature much in the Rugby Championship, and maybe also look at a position or two with the following week’s Wales test in mind.
Here then are six All Blacks who could have a lot to play for in Washington:
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Sam Cane
The rugged openside flanker, and Foster’s first skipper in 2020, is well short of a gallop after six months out dealing with a pectoral muscle injury and surgery. But he’s had a run of sorts, for King Country in the Heartland competition, and will get another chance to build back to full fitness in this one. Important game for the tackling beast to slip back into test mode if he hopes to feature in the big contests ahead. Won’t have the captaincy to distract him, either.
Dane Coles
Like Cane, Coles is one of the tour additions whistled up from New Zealand, and should get the chance to log valuable minutes against ideal opposition to work your way back to test-match intensity. Coles, at his best, remains a game-changing hooker, but a niggly calf injury removed him from the picture after July, and he will also manage an ankle tweak in DC. As good as the young talent is in behind Codie Taylor, there remains enough special about the Codie ‘n Coles show to hope the Hurricanes hard case can get back somewhere near his best on tour.
Dalton Papalii
The in-form Blues openside was charging in his first prolonged run of tests in the black jersey, until a hamstring injury put him on ice for the back part of the Rugby Championship. It was a shame as he had continued his red-hot form in Super Rugby into the test arena, and was making the most of Cane’s extended absence. Now, with the 2020 skip and Shannon Frizell both back, the competition for spots in the loose trio is mad. But, at his best, Papalii brings a blend of physicality and athleticism that is compelling, and he’ll need to show that against the US to remain in contention for the big tests ahead.
Will Jordan
Could play at either fullback or wing on Sunday, and needs a confidence-boosting showing to get things back on track after he was dropped following the narrow victory over the Boks in Townsville. Somewhat of an enigma, with a remarkable 12 tries in nine tests, but exposed by the Boks flying squad under that high-ball attack. There is no doubting this young man’s class, and hopefully he learnt plenty from his matchup against the Saffas. The type to enjoy himself if it opens up at FedEx Field.
Hoskins Sotutu
The ball-playing No 8 has fallen down the pecking order in 2021, but is just the sort of talent who could turn things around on the back of one showing. It’s going to be a tight call in the loose trio for Wales, Ireland and France, and Sotutu might be a more long-term prospect. But no one has a more skilful repertoire than this fellow, and Sunday might be a good time for him to unleash it, as well as that physicality his coaches want to see from him.
Richie Mo’unga
Whether he starts at 10 remains to be seen, but after so little rugby of late you would think Foster would want to get some minutes into his star playmaker. The coach has a big call to make soon between he and Beauden Barrett, but a free-flowing hitout against the Americans would be an ideal way for Mo’unga to prove his readiness. Barrett has made his move in the championship; the ball is now in the Cantab’s court.
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