All Blacks throw a curve ball in Chicago by selecting Jerome Kaino at lock

By Gregor Paul in Chicago

With the Cubs being the talk of the town, the All Blacks have bought into the baseball vibe by throwing something of a curve ball, selecting Jerome Kaino at lock.

The veteran flanker has had some exposure to the role - filling in occasionally since 2014 when there has been no specialist cover on the bench.

This is the first time he's been asked to start, however and he's been pressed into action because of the lack of alternative resources. Sam Whitelock and Brodie Retallick are both recovering from injury, Luke Romano has flown home following a following bereavement and the selectors felt that it was too big an ask for the uncapped Scott Barrett to start having only had a few days with the team.

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"Jerome has been covering for us the last few weeks and he's very comfortable in the position," says Hansen. "We thought it was a big ask to ask a young fella [Barrett] who has only been here since Sunday. There is a lot for him to take in so we have tried to keep it as simple as possible, but very confident that he'll do well when he comes on. He's a pretty sharp cookie and he's impressed us.

Watch: Julian Savea on facing Ireland in Chicago

Video

"We don't have any other choice anyway it is either him or Vaea [Fifita]. Unfortunately with the tragedy with Luke [Romano] it is a no-brainer. It is like an injury really. We have two choices - we can dwell on it and get worried about or show faith and move on and that is no excuse for us to move on."

The other swing decision has gone the way of George Moala who has been picked at centre to partner Ryan Crotty. There was strong expectation that a change would be made as Anton Lienert-Brown, for all his attacking brilliance in the last few tests, was showing signs of fragility on defence.

It came down to a straight choice between Moala and Malakai Fekitoa and the former won out on the basis that he would have been the starting centre in the Rugby Championship had injury not struck.

It has taken him a while to fully recover and regain the sharpness that he was showing when he so memorably destroyed the vaunted Welsh midfield back in June.

But the selectors are confident he's back to his physical peak and they want to see if he can resume with that direct, bruising style of his. Fekitoa will no doubt emerge from the bench at some stage and be encouraged to trust his instincts and play what he sees.

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His form has been patchy this year and that may largely be because he has been guilty of over analysing his options and has occasionally been caught in two minds about what he is trying to do.

"LB [Lienert-Brown] has been brilliant for us this year but like all young players you just can't give him too much," said Hansen. "He's had six games and four starts and there are signs there that he is starting to feel all that and it was time for him to come out of all that and do a bit of training and relieve some of the pressure. We will see him again before the season is out.

"George, if you go back to the first Rugby Championship game, was our first pick centre so we have just gone back to that."

For the first time since the opening test of the the year Julian Savea, who will win his 50th cap and Waisake Naholo will both start on the wing. It's a combination with enormous punch and finishing power and while it was tried back in June, Savea wasn't in great form at the time.

All Blacks team to play Ireland in Chicago on Sunday morning (test caps in brackets):

1. Joe Moody (20)
2. Dane Coles (46)
3. Owen Franks (87)
4. Patrick Tuipulotu (10)
5. Jerome Kaino (75)
6. Liam Squire (6)
7. Sam Cane (37)
8. Kieran Read (c) (94)
9. Aaron Smith (54)
10. Beauden Barrett (46)
11. Julian Savea (49)
12. Ryan Crotty (24)
13. George Moala (3)
14. Waisake Naholo (8)
15. Ben Smith (58)

Reserves:
16. Codie Taylor (11)
17. Ofa Tu'ungafasi (2)
18. Charlie Faumuina (42)
19. Scott Barrett (0)
20. Ardie Savea (9)
21. TJ Perenara (26)
22. Aaron Cruden (43)
23. Malakai Fekitoa (20)

- NZ Herald

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