Gregor Paul is the Herald on Sunday's rugby writer

All Blacks: Lock stocks hit breaking point

The All Blacks' already reduced locking stocks have been stretched further by the sudden departure of Luke Romano who has returned to New Zealand after a family bereavement.

In the absence of senior locks Sam Whitelock and Brodie Retallick, who are both injured, Romano had been in line to start against Ireland in Chicago alongside Patrick Tuipulotu.

But that plan has been shelved and instead it is now almost certain Scott Barrett will make his test debut at Soldier Field. Vaea Fifita is with the squad - he travelled as a temporary replacement for Retallick - and as the only other recognised, fit lock, he may win a place on the bench if the coaches feel they need a specialist backing-up.

The situation is far from ideal for the All Blacks. Whitelock and Retallick have been pillars of the team since 2012 and have been especially commanding in 2016. Losing them was a blow, but Romano has been around since 2012 and Tuipulotu is an emerging talent.

To now be without Romano leaves the All Blacks light on experience in their second row but assistant coach Ian Foster is confident that Barrett and Fifita can do whatever job that will be asked of them.

"They have come in and done what we need to them to do," said Foster. "They have got some good teachers around them. Like all the boys who have come on tour they have worked hard to get up to speed quickly and are doing a good job."

The slightly encouraging news to offset some of the bad was that Retallick and Whitelock are both tracking ahead of expectation and are likely to join the tour either in Rome or in Dublin.

As it was probable that neither would be used against Italy even if they were fit, the All Blacks are only really looking at being short of locking resource for this test.

It will, however, be a major challenge for Tuipulotu and Barrett to play against an experienced and technically strong Irish pack.

The set-piece will have been ear-marked by the Irish as a place to attack the All Blacks and they are one of the better teams at attacking the tackled ball area with innovation.

As to the rest of their game, Foster expected they will mix things up between keeping the ball in hand and kicking to contest. "They have got the ability to do a little bit of both and we will probably discover that early in the game," he said.

"Part of the preparation is making sure we are ready for whatever comes.

" We know they like to kick a lot, especially when they are put under pressure they resort to their kick a bit. They have got a good attacking kicking game as well. I am sure it will be there it is just a matter of which stage it comes out."

- NZ Herald

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