WELLINGTON, New Zealand (AP) — All Blacks head coach Ian Foster, two assistant coaches and two leading players have tested positive for COVID-19, severely disrupting the team’s preparation for Saturday’s first rugby test against Ireland.
Foster, Plumtree and Scott McLeod are isolating at home and midfielders Jack Goodhue and David Havili haven’t joined the team in Auckland where the test will be played in front of a sellout crowd at Eden Park.
Goodhue and Havili both had strong chances of being named in the New Zealand lineup for the first test of a three-test series.
Assistant coaches Brad Mooar and Greg Feek will take charge of the team in the lead-up to the match while Crusaders center Braydon Ennor has joined the squad to provide midfield cover.
Former Ireland coach Joe Schmidt, who was due to join the All Blacks later this season as a selector and analyst, will now attend trainings this week to help the depleted coaching team.
Further cases are expected because the team recently has been in camp and players and coaches have been in close proximity.
Foster said he is confident the test preparation will be in good hands.
“We’ve had a plan for this happening and it’s a great opportunity for the wider coaching group and the senior players who will be highly motivated to step up,” he said. “We have learned how to cope with the unexpected like everyone has over the past couple of years. I will still be working alongside the coaches and team via Zoom and I have huge faith in the coaching group and the players.”
The All Blacks have numerous midfield options with Rieko Ioane and Quinn Tupaea now likely to fill those roles.
Saturday’s test is an important one for the All Blacks, who hadn’t lost to Ireland for 111 years before doing so at Soldier Field, Chicago in November 2016. They have now lost three of their last five tests against Ireland, including the most recent at Dublin last year.
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