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Pair of All Blacks stars ruled out of second test against Ireland

By Alex McLeod
(Photos by Hannah Peters/Getty Images)

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Two All Blacks locks have been ruled unavailable for this week’s second test against Ireland at Forsyth Barr Stadium in Dunedin.

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Veteran second rower Sam Whitelock and youngster Tupou Vaa’i will both miss the match, which Ireland must win to keep their hopes of a test series victory alive.

Whitelock has been ruled out due to self-reported delayed concussion sustained during his side’s 42-19 win at Eden Park in Auckland last Saturday.

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Under World Rugby’s new concussion protocols, Whitelock – who became the second-most capped All Black ever when he made his 133rd test appearance for New Zealand on Saturday – will be sidelined for 12 days.

That means the 33-year-old won’t be available until next week’s third test at Sky Stadium in Wellington at the earliest.

Vaa’i, meanwhile, is the latest All Black to have been infected by Covid, leaving the 22-year-old out of action for the next seven days.

In his place comes experienced campaigner Patrick Tuipulotu, who joins the All Blacks after having trained with the squad in Auckland last week.

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After returning to New Zealand from a season-long sabbatical in Japan Rugby League One with Toyota Verblitz, Tuipulotu was considered unavailable for All Blacks selection when it came time to picking the national squad for the Ireland series.

However, with two locks – as well as the injured Josh Lord – now unavailable this weekend, All Blacks head coach Ian Foster is now free to pick Tuipulotu after seeking dispensation from the New Zealand Rugby board to make him free for selection.

The addition of Tuipulotu is valuable for the All Blacks given the 29-year-old brings with him 41 tests of experience in a positional group where Brodie Retallick and Scott Barrett are the only available options from the initial cohort of locks picked by Foster.

With only three locks at his disposal, much interest will now surround how Foster utilises Barrett, who was a surprise pick at blindside flanker in last week’s first test against Ireland.

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Despite the widespread scepticism that surrounded that selection, Barrett impressed in his first test at No 6 since the 2019 World Cup semi-final loss to England as he provided the All Blacks with the physicality that they desired.

As such, the 28-year-old – who is primed to bring up his 50th All Blacks test this Saturday – was tipped by many to remain in the loose forwards in Dunedin, but the unavailability of Whitelock and Vaa’i may alter that scenario.

A variety of candidates, including Blues duo Akira Ioane and Dalton Papalii, as well as last week’s All Blacks debutant Pita Gus Sowakula, could step up to fill the void at blindside flanker if Barrett is moved back into the second row.

Elsewhere, 17-test flanker Shannon Frizell and Maori All Blacks lock Josh Dickson have been called into the All Blacks set-up in a training capacity.

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