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Sam Cane takes captain's armband as All Blacks make big changes for Italy

By Tom Vinicombe
(Photo by Phil Walter/Getty Images)

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In a somewhat unsurprising move, the All Blacks have completely rotated out their starting line-up from their win over Wales and made wholesale changes to the match-day squad for this weekend’s test against Italy in Rome.

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After belting the USA and Wales in successive weeks, the All Blacks will be anticipating another handy victory over the Azurri. As such, Ian Foster has rested the majority of his first-stringers to ensure the team is ready for the final two matches of the tour against Ireland and France.

That doesn’t mean the side is without proven talent or experience, however, with senior players Sam Cane and Dane Coles named in the run-on side after lengthy injury breaks.

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The panel of Ross Karl, Bryn Hall and James Parsons run their eyes over all the developments from the past week of rugby.
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The panel of Ross Karl, Bryn Hall and James Parsons run their eyes over all the developments from the past week of rugby.

A pec injury suffered during Super Rugby kept Cane on the sidelines for the bulk of the test season while Coles played in the All Blacks’ first two matches of the year before taking a knock and remaining in NZ when the side eventually travelled to Australia for the Rugby Championship.

The pair both made their returns against the USA off the bench but this weekend’s match presents the two opportunities to start.

Hooker Coles will be flanked in the front row by George Bower and Tyrel Lomax, who have both impressed in their starting roles against the Eagles. Asafo Aumua, Ethan de Groot and Ofa Tuungafasi are the front-row reserves.

In the second row, Josh Lord will make his first test start after debuting in Maryland. He’ll partner fellow Chiefs lock Tupou Vaa’i. Sam Whitelock will provide cover off the bench.

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Cane will partner Hoskins Sotutu and Super Rugby teammate Luke Jacobson in the loose forwards with reserve Shannon Frizell due to also make his return to the test arena from the bench.

Brad Weber and Richie Mo’unga are back in the drivers’ seats to take on Italy after partnering up in the opening game of the season against Tonga, with both players looking to push for a place in the regular starting side.

The same midfield from the Eagles game is also brought back into the side, with Quinn Tupaea partnering Braydon Ennor.

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Finally, George Bridge, Damian McKenzie and Sevu Reece have been handed opportunities in the back three, with Reece impressing in his cameo off the bench against Wales.

David Havili and Jordie Barrett will cover the outside backs from the bench.

All Blacks Head Coach Ian Foster said: “We’ve had a great week here in Rome. It’s very stimulating to be in this city and, whilst we can’t get out as much as we like, it’s great to have the players experience a new culture, and that’s all part of generating energy in a squad when you’re touring.

“We are ready and prepared for this weekend. We know it’s a really big game for us when it comes to improving our skillsets and decision-making as we’ve made that a bit of a focus this week. The team that’s been selected has been given the job of ensuring we grow in those areas from our game against Wales.

“With this tour we have an objective of growing the opportunities and the depth in this group. We’ve been driving our performances upwards because the competition and the energy in the squad has been huge. This week is about this particular group putting another marker down.”

All Blacks: Damian McKenzie, Sevu Reece, Braydon Ennor, Quinn Tupaea, George Bridge, Richie Mo’unga, Brad Weber, Hoskins Sotutu, Sam Cane, Luke Jacobson, Josh Lord, Tupou Vaa’i, Tyrel Lomax, Dane Coles, George Bower. Reserves: Asafo Aumua, Ethan de Groot, Ofa Tuungafasi, Sam Whitelock, Shannon Frizell, Finlay Christie, David Havili, Jordie Barrett.

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