WELLINGTON (Reuters) - The All Blacks are expecting a stiffer challenge against Fiji in their second July test than they did in the 102-0 thrashing of Tonga last week but that does not mean another mismatch is not on the cards in Dunedin on Saturday.
Fiji have not played the All Blacks for a decade but it is hard to see them managing to do much better on Saturday than they have in their previous five official tests, in which they have been outscored 364 points to 50.
New Zealand's depth of talent means coach Ian Foster has been able to change all but two of his starting side for the first of back-to-back tests against Fiji and still put out a team that would be able to beat the best in the world.
By contrast, his Fiji counterpart Vern Cotter has been forced to start a scrumhalf with six minutes of test experience with his other halfback options unable to travel to New Zealand because of a COVID-19 outbreak in Australia.
New Zealand have no motivation to go easy with the battle for selection so intense and Foster's job on the line if he cannot muster up a better winning percentage this year than the 50% he oversaw in his first season in charge.
"Overall, pleased with where we've got to at this stage and now it's a chance for this second squad to make a statement and make sure that we really grow our game in what I think will be a more robust challenge," Foster said after naming his team.
Former World Rugby Player of the Year Brodie Retallick will play his first test since the last World Cup after a spell in Japan and tighthead prop Ethan de Groot is set to make his test debut off the bench.
Scrumhalf Aaron Smith will captain the All Blacks for the first time in his 98th test and Fiji-born Sevu Reece starts on the right wing.
Even in the absence of Semi Radradra, Fiji have their biggest scoring threats out wide with Nemani Nadolo starting and Manasa Mataele set to make his test debut off the bench after a breakout season with the Canterbury Crusaders.
"We're going to play Fijian rugby, we're going to play the rugby that suits us, and we're good at," said former Scotland coach Cotter.
"We're not going to play somebody else's rugby, we're going to play our rugby."
(Reporting by Nick Mulvenney in Sydney, editing by Peter Rutherford)