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All Blacks greats predict team selection for clash against USA

By Sam Smith
(Photos / Getty Images)

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All Blacks greats Sir John Kirwan and Mils Muliaina have predicted which players will feature for New Zealand against the USA Eagles this weekend.


The All Blacks will begin their tour of the United States and Europe in Washington DC on Saturday [local time] as they face the tier two Americans who head into this match on the back of a World Cup qualifier defeat at the hands of Uruguay.

The USA’s loss to their South American rivals emphasises the gulf in class between them and the All Blacks, who are fresh from their Rugby Championship success in Australia.

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Such disparity between the two teams has left many anticipating a rout from the travelling Kiwis, who may look at this fixture as a chance to blood young and inexperienced players while also giving returning veterans a chance to get back into test rugby.

All Blacks head coach Ian Foster has already indicated he will use the fixture to reintroduce captain Sam Cane and experienced hooker Dane Coles into the mix after lengthy injury lay-offs.

Cane and Coles are two of five players – including seasoned lock Sam Whitelock, loose forward Shannon Frizell and uncapped second rower Josh Lord – who travelled to the American capital a few days earlier than the rest of the Australian-based squad.

All five players missed the Rugby Championship for a variety of reasons and instead trained, played and recuperated in New Zealand until being called upon for the end-of-year tour.


It is expected most, if not all, of those five players will feature at FedEx Field in five days’ time alongside a number of other players who have been starved of game time in recent weeks.

However, speaking on The Breakdown on Monday, Muliaina said he was unsure about the selection of Lord, the 20-year-old who was plucked from obscurity to replace locks Scott Barrett and Patrick Tuipulotu in the touring squad.

Both players returned to New Zealand following the Rugby Championship after obtaining MIQ spots, leaving Foster to turn to Lord, who only has five Super Rugby matches with the Chiefs to his name.

Despite the attention surrounding him and whether he will make his test debut for the All Blacks, Muliaina said he believes Foster has only taken Lord on this tour to garner off-field experience.


Instead, Muliaina, the former All Blacks captain who played 100 tests for New Zealand, said he would prefer to see the team’s returning veterans such as Cane, Coles and Whitelock get some game time against the United States.

“I’m not sure about Josh Lord,” the 2011 World Cup winner told The Breakdown.

“I think he might just be there for a bigger experience in terms of the whole culture, the whole environment, but, when you look at those experienced guys, that’s massive getting those guys over there.

“It’s invaluable what they bring off the field, and so you roll them out there and it’s a good chance, also, for them to get a bit of game time.”

Muliaina added that the test presents a prime opportunity for Coles to overcome a persistent calf injury, which the 76-test hooker said last week had been a source of frustration as Codie Taylor, Samisoni Taukei’aho and Asafo Aumua impressed in the No 2 jersey in his absence.

The former utility back also said that the inclusion of Cane in this week’s match day squad would be beneficial in his preparation for upcoming tests against Wales, Italy, Ireland and France after more than six months without action due to a pectoral injury.

“Obviously it’s frustrating that he’s [Coles] had a calf injury and that, but a game like this can actually get your rhythm back into things,” Muliaina said.

“Sam Cane’s had a game in Heartland [Championship], he now goes back into the environment, so you get them back out there in the lead-up to what’s coming ahead of them over in Europe.”

While Kirwan agreed with much of what Muliaina said, he argued that Lord should be involved in this week’s match as he said it is unlikely he will feature at all throughout the rest of the tour.

“I agree with Milsy, I think you play everyone this week,” the 1987 World Cup-winning wing told The Breakdown.

“I think they’ll be fit enough. I also think you play the young fella [Lord] because he’s probably not going to get another game, so just get him out there, or put him on the bench, bring him on late.”

On the topic of who should start at first-five this weekend, Kirwan was of the belief that Richie Mo’unga deserves a run in the No 10 jersey following Beauden Barrett’s lengthy run of starts during the Rugby Championship.

Mo’unga only played about a dozen minutes off the bench in New Zealand’s final Rugby Championship match against the Springboks three weeks ago after missing most of the tournament to attend the birth of his second child.

Prior to that, the 27-year-old had established himself as the starting All Blacks playmaker through his efforts in Super Rugby, the July tests and the Bledisloe Cup, but Barrett took full advantage of his absence by producing a string of captivating performances.

After heading into the Rugby Championship as the preferred first-five option, Mo’unga seemingly has his fair share of work to do if he is to solidify his place ahead of Barrett in the pecking order.

Kirwan said that positional competition can only be good for the All Blacks, noting that he would opt for Mo’unga in this week’s clash.

“There is now real competition that Foster has created, and there’s competition at 10, and they’re both different players. They’ve both got x-factor at different moments,” he said.

“With Jordie [Barrett] coming in and putting up his hand at kicking, that’s going to be a real interesting run, right? Because Mo’unga loves kicking the ball for goal, so I just think it creates the perfect scenario.

“I’d put Mo’unga out there against the States straight away, and then it’s all on.”

Furthermore, Kirwan suggested that Whitelock should be the frontrunner to captain the side this week ahead of Cane and interim skipper Ardie Savea.

Cane was named as full-time All Blacks captain last year, while Savea was appointed captain of the All Blacks for their Rugby Championship campaign when Cane, Whitelock and Aaron Smith were all left in New Zealand.

However, Whitelock has extensive experience captaining the All Blacks, having done so throughout the July tests and Bledisloe Cup earlier this year, and Kirwan said letting the 127-test lock lead the side would relieve Savea of extra repsonsibilities.

“I think Whitelock comes back into the captaincy role. I think Ardie’s done a great job, but he’ll be happy, he’ll just be freed up to play.”

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