Patrick McKendry

Patrick McKendry is a rugby writer for the Herald.

All Blacks: Whitelock a quality replacement for Retallick

As replacement locks go, you can't get much better than Sam Whitelock, even allowing for a sore finger and a slight lack of match fitness.

Once Brodie Retallick strained his hamstring in training yesterday, All Blacks coach Steve Hansen quickly checked on the medical status of the Crusaders lock, who broke the ring finger on his right hand playing against the Chiefs on May 24, and liked what he heard.

Whitelock had originally not been named in the match day squad for tomorrow night's second test against France at AMI Stadium in Christchurch and most thought Hurricanes lock Jeremy Thrush would be promoted from the reserves bench to make his test debut.

Not so, said Hansen.

"We've got a plan for Jeremy and he's done a lot of work on that plan this week so we didn't want to disrupt what we'd decided to do with bringing him off the bench at some point,'' Hansen said.

"Sammy is our No1 lock along with Brodie, really, and Luke [Romano] and all three rotated last year so it was the obvious thing to do as soon as we got the all clear to put him straight in.''

Although Hansen amended his statement slightly to include Retallick and Romano, the reality is that Whitelock is out by himself as the best lock in New Zealand.

Following Ali Williams' retirement, Whitelock, at only 24, is easily the most experienced of Hansen's second-rowers, having played 39 test.

Having not played for two weeks - he missed the Crusaders victory over the Waratahs and last weekend's first test at Eden Park - he won't be at peak fitness, but skipper Kieran Read didn't think it would make much difference.

"The experience that Sam does have - he probably hasn't trained as much as he would like, but he certainly has the mental capability to play and do the job,'' Read said.

Hansen added of Whitelock's state of mind following his unexpected opportunity: "He's champing at the bit, he can't wait to get out there.''

For Retallick, 22, it is his first setback since making his test debut last year. Picked during his first year of Super Rugby, the Chiefs player has developed into a hard-nosed lock who has a real liking for the physical stuff - a quality the All Blacks will need tomorrow after France proved extremely good at the breakdown in the home team's 23-13 win in Auckland.

Hansen said Retallick could be out for up to four weeks, which means he could miss one or two of the Chiefs' three remaining regular season matches, a blow for coach Dave Rennie.

"It's a reasonably good one and he's never done one before,'' Hansen said of Retallick's hamstring injury. "The thing about hamstrings is you never want to have them recurring, that's why you take the length of time to get them right.

"He's obviously really gutted, as you would be. It's probably the first time he's had a wee hiccup in the last 24 months. He's dealt with it and now the big focus for him is getting his leg right.''

France have made four personnel changes and one positional switch for a match in which they might have their best chance of beating the All Blacks.

Nicolas Mas is back at tighthead prop after missing the first test, Castres lock Christophe Samson replaces Sebastien Vahaamahina and South African-born flanker Bernard le Roux comes in on the blindside flank for Fulgence Ouedraogo.

The experienced Freddie Michalak is the only change in the backs, replacing Camille Lopez in the No10 jersey, although Maxime Medard switches from wing to fullback after shining there against the Blues on Tuesday and massive centre Mathieu Bastereaud is lurking on the reserves bench this time.

"They were obviously changes they were going to make, really,'' Hansen said of the French. "They brought a whole load of senior players over after their finals and they didn't bring them to play on Tuesday. Michalak had a bit of a run but by and large the purpose was to get them here for this weekend. They've had a good tour, I think the game against the Blues served a real purpose so they'll be ready to go.''

All Blacks team to play France at AMI Stadium tomorrow, kick-off 7.35pm is: Israel Dagg, Ben Smith, Conrad Smith, Ma'a Nonu, Julian Savea, Aaron Cruden, Aaron Smith, Kieran Read (c), Sam Cane, Liam Messam, Sam Whitelock, Luke Romano, Owen Franks, Dane Coles, Wyatt Crockett. Reserves: Andrew Hore, Tony Woodcock, Ben Franks, Jeremy Thrush, Victor Vito, Piri Weepu, Beauden Barrett, Rene Ranger.

France: Maxime Medard, Adrien Plante, Florian Fritz, Wesley Fofana, Yoann Huget, Freddie Michalak, Maxime Machenaud, Louis Picamoles, Bernard le Roux, Thierry Dusautoir (c), Yoann Maestri, Christophe Samson, Nicolas Mas, Dimitri Szarzewski, Thomas Domingo. Reserves: Benjamin Kayser, Vincent Debaty, Luc Ducalcon, Sebastien Vahaamahina, Yannick Nyanga, Brice Dulin, Remi Tales, Mathieu Bastareaud.

- APNZ

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