All Blacks coach Ian Foster will get one final look at contenders for his first All Blacks squad when the North-South match is played in Wellington on Saturday.
Foster, who replaced Steve Hansen after last year's Rugby World Cup, will name his squad on Sunday although New Zealand Rugby are yet to confirm any fixtures because of uncertainty around the novel coronavirus.
The match, between composite sides representing the country’s two main islands, on Saturday has also already been postponed once and moved to Wellington Regional Stadium from Auckland because of Covid-19 restrictions.
The fabled North v South rugby clash has been resurrected this year after an eight-year hiatus. The fixture was first played in 1897 and was a mainstay of New Zealand rugby last century. It was lost during the game’s professional era but returns during the Covid-interrupted season.
The teams, coached by Foster’s assistants, named arguably their strongest possible sides for the clash, even if there will be no crowd allowed to watch it.
All Blacks assistant coach John Plumtree, who is in charge of the North team, however, told reporters on Thursday they were not considering it a trial.
“Everyone might be seeing it that way, and maybe in the old days they saw it as an All Black trial,” Plumtree said. “We’ve already seen them go for 10 rounds of derby games.
“This game is about them and New Zealand enjoying the talent we’ve got in this country.”
The game will still likely provide some last-minute selection decisions and produce some mouth-watering individual matchups.
Focus will undoubtedly be on the head-to-head encounter at outhalf between the South’s Richie Mo’unga and the North’s Beauden Barrett.
Mo’unga was the best player in the number 10 jersey in Super Rugby Aotearoa, but Barrett, who played much of the season at fullback, was starting to regain his form when he shifted to outhalf towards the end of the season.
As well as the match being a clash of the islands, it’s also a clash of the brothers with Beauden lining out at No 10 for the North and his brother Jordie Barrett in the South’s team at No 15.
Rieko Ioane’s form at centre for the North should also provide an interesting pointer to the selection mix of a crowded midfield and outside backs contingent, where the South’s winger Will Jordan could earn his first callup on Sunday.