Rugby: Read to lead ABs against Italy

Kieran Read. Photo by Getty
Kieran Read. Photo by Getty
Kieran Read, as has been widely speculated, will indeed captain the All Blacks in their test against Italy on Sunday morning.

His confirmation as captain carried as little surprise as the overall make-up of the starting team which became relatively easy to guess given the stated desire to provide all 32 members of the tour with significant game time in the first two tests.

By a process of elimination following the test in Scotland, it was apparent how the team to play Italy would shape up with the only possible doubt hanging over the make up of the back three.

The final mix is intriguing with Julian Savea being picked on the left wing, Hosea Gear on the right and Beauden Barrett at fullback.

The trio have played together for the Hurricanes in 2011 but the interesting part is the switch of flanks. Savea has extensive experience on the right having played there for the New Zealand Under-20s. Gear has predominantly been used on the left throughout his time with the Hurricanes, Highlanders and All Blacks.

But All Black assistant coach Ian Foster and head coach Steve Hansen have analysed Gear's game closely and have hit on the theory that the giant wing is better suited to operating in the No 14 jersey.

"We were always going to play those two guys [Gear and Savea]," says Hansen. "We haven't had that luxury this year. We have always had the feeling that we have needed Cory [Jane] out there for that experience.

"Julian and H [Gear] have had quite a bit of rugby together now and it is time to see whether they can play as a partnership. We think the right side might suit H better than the left.

"Some of the stuff we have seen him do and when he does his drills he seems to naturally be able to beat people on the right-hand side. It is just a gut-feeling. He's comfortable playing there and he'll give it a crack."

The original thinking was that Ben Smith would slot in at fullback but he has been ruled out due to a broken cheekbone - paving the way for Barrett to jump off the bench where he would be covering first-five and start wearing No 15.

The challenge has been put to this side that they have the opportunity to push for starting places in the final two tests. Hansen was clear before the tour party left that selection for the games against Wales and England would be based on form.

He noted a number of players delivered quality efforts against Scotland and the the likes of Aaron Smith, Liam Messam, Ali Williams, Brodie Retallick and Tony Woodcock will be conscious of the need to perform.

All Blacks team to play Italy at Stadio Olimpico, November 17: Beauden Barrett, Hosea Gear, Conrad Smith, Ma'a Nonu, Julian Savea, Aaron Cruden, Aaron Smith, Kieran Read (captain), Sam Cane, Liam Messam, Ali Williams, Brodie Retallick, Charlie Faumuina, Keven Mealamu, Tony Woodcock. Reserves: Dane Coles, Ben Franks, Wyatt Crockett, Sam Whitelock, Victor Vito, Tawera Kerr-Barlow, Daniel Carter, Cory Jane.

- By Gregor Paul of the Herald on Sunday in Rome


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