Daniel Richardson

Daniel Richardson is a Wellington-based sports journalist for NZME. News Service.

All Blacks: Retallick and Romano ready to unite

Luke Romano (pictured) and Brodie Retallick have only eight test caps between them but will start together for the first time on Saturday. Photo / Getty Images.
Luke Romano (pictured) and Brodie Retallick have only eight test caps between them but will start together for the first time on Saturday. Photo / Getty Images.

In dropping Sam Whitelock, All Blacks coach Steve Hansen has plumped for an extremely inexperienced locking duo to play Argentina in Wellington and it's one that is both risky but also exciting.

Luke Romano and Brodie Retallick have only eight test caps between them but will start together for the first time on Saturday when they meet a Pumas forward pack who will provide a greater physical challenge than recent opponents Australia.

Retallick's inclusion in the starting line-up comes at the expense of Whitelock, who Hansen said is feeling the effects of his constant starts for the Crusaders and All Blacks this year.

With veteran second-rowers Ali Williams and Anthony Boric continuing to struggle with injury and Brad Thorn overseas, Hansen has little choice but to go for Romano and Retallick. Chiefs captain Craig Clarke has been in the All Blacks camp in Auckland while rehabilitating from his knee injury but the stocks are a little thin beyond that.

Romano has started the past three tests and is growing into his role with his strong ball-running and aerial skills suiting the style of play Hansen has implemented.

"It's a very good challenge for us," Romano said of this weekend's outing. "Brodie's been playing some good footy this year and obviously I have too to be selected for the All Blacks so it's just something that we are both really looking forward to. We are constantly working during the week to try to build that combination.

"He helps me out and I help him out and hopefully we'll have a good game together."

Romano made his Super Rugby debut only last year before rising to prominence this season as his partnership with Whitelock flourished following the departure of Thorn.

The 26-year-old, who has size 17 feet, said playing on a regular basis had seen his game take on another dimension.

"I guess it's just being consistent. Last year, being my first year, you have a few good games then you drop off and it's all up and down. This season started out like that but from probably halfway through the season right through to now I started putting back-to-back performances together."

Romano's ball-carrying ability has been an impressive aspect of his play and he carted the ball 72 times and gained 327m during the Super Rugby regular season and also registered 10 tackle busts.

"You always like to run round with the ball in hand," the 1.99m Romano said. "Growing up through the ages, I was always a ball carrier. Then I started doing it at the Super Rugby level and was having some good rewards from it. It's something I enjoy, being able to stretch my legs and take the ball in to contact and make some good yards and get that quick ball to play with."

Retallick has thrived on plenty of game-time during his first Super Rugby season when he logged 17 starts with the championship-winning Chiefs.

The 21-year-old made his provincial debut last year and with an imposing frame - he stands 2.04m and weighs around 120kgs - is well-suited to the international arena where he will be given a stern examination by the confrontational Argentina forwards.

"I'm looking forward to the opportunity to get a start. Coming off the bench is always great but to be starting is another bonus," he said.

- APNZ

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