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'No disrespect to Italy': All Blacks audition expected in Rome

By Sam Smith
(Photo by Patrick Smith/Getty Images)

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The All Blacks have camped up Rome to take on Italy this weekend ahead of what is expected to be a one-sided fixture on Sunday [NZT].

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After comfortably beating Wales 54-16, this week’s test against the Italians shapes as the last opportunity for the squad to put their cases forward for the following two-week challenge against Ireland, currently ranked fifth by World Rugby, and France, ranked sixth.

Crusaders and Maori All Blacks halfback Bryn Hall expects to see a lot of changes in All Blacks head coach Ian Foster’s run-on side, including the return of Sam Cane and his teammate Richie Mo’unga at first-five.

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“We are going to see a lot of changes I think,” Hall told the Aotearoa Rugby Pod.

“Give guys a chance to put their hand up for the next coming two test matches. It’s no disrespect to Italy, it is an opportunity to give guys an opportunity to play.

“Whether that is Sam Cane coming back in, you’ve got Dane Coles as well – does Richie Mo’unga come in and you give Beaudy [Beauden Barrett] a week off? Even the likes of Sevu Reece and Luke Jacobson, players like that.

“I think Sam Cane might come in and start, give him some minutes. From Ian Foster’s words, he wanted to bring him in and have some good training under his belt even though he played that test match against the USA.

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“It’s a good opportunity to bring him in, get him some meaningful minutes where he can stake his claim to get back to where we know Sam can be.”

Hall also suggested this weekend is an opportune time to give Mo’unga a start despite the man-of-the-match performance from Barrett over the weekend.

Barrett has plenty of minutes under his belt so far, and Hall outlined that the Italy test presents the last chance for Mo’unga to really put a case forward to start in the remaining big tests.

“I think it’s an opportunity to give Richie a go,” Hall said.

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“Beaudy had an outstanding game on the weekend, played really, really well and it’s not going to be a form thing when it comes to Beaudy.

“He’s been there for the majority of that Rugby Championship, played consistently well and has had a lot of time, whereas Richie played that game against the Americans, got what he needed to get out of it, but I think it is a good time to put Richie in there and have that combination with David Havili.

“There’s just so many great players at the moment that need a little more game time. You’d like to think this Italian game is the last chance on this tour for guys who want to play the big two tests against Ireland and France.”

Former Blues hooker James Parsons agreed that Cane is sure to see some significant game time, but suggested the decision at lock will be key for Foster if the All Blacks need a replacement for the injured Brodie Retallick.

“A couple of interesting positions for me is lock. I’m not sure where Brodie’s injury is at, so we might see some opportunity for Josh Lord or Tupou Vaa’i to start,” Parsons told the Aotearoa Rugby Pod.

“If they aren’t going to bring someone in, depending on how bad Brodie’s injury is, is there a makeshift loosie that can potentially move into that locking space for the other two tests coming up?

“I’m sure Brodie is fine, but that’s what I was thinking about going into that Italian test. If they can create some opportunities for some guys to fill that role.

“I agree with Bryn, I think Sam Cane will come back into the mix and start and get some good minutes under his belt.”

If Cane is to return to the starting line-up, that could push in-form youngster Dalton Papalii to the bench despite his impressive performance against Wales.

The 24-year-old flanker completed 16 of 16 tackles while winning a turnover in an industrious defensive display. Papalii also added a try after breaking from the maul, which came at a key moment after Wales had narrowed the gap to 28-16.

When asked if Papalii is pushing Cane for his position, Parsons said it was too tight to call with both players at various stages in the All Blacks’ plans.

“I think that’s too hard of a discussion,” he said.

“I think Dalton is physically ready and ready for tier one nations test football. I think the plan, with Sam, is just to slowly progress him back. He’s had a great opportunity against the US and now another opportunity against Italy.

“They will reassess from there and make some decisions heading into the Irish and French tests.”

Parsons also believed that going back-to-back against Ireland and France with the same All Blacks team would be tough without knowing how the squad is shaping up physically at that time.

“I find that hard because you have got to see how banged up they are, see who is in the best physical shape. I think that is the beauty of this squad at the moment, is the competition.

“So, I think there might be a pencilled in team potentially, for that two-week slot, but it’s two different styles, two different opposition. I think they will leave themselves the ability to adjust, post that Irish test.”

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