Nigel Yalden: Picking the All Blacks' side to face Italy

Trying to figure out what the All Blacks selectors are thinking prior to the naming of their test fifteen is always a challenging, yet quite fun task when you're on tour.

That challenge is always that little bit greater when they face a team like Italy, even more so this week given the loss at Soldier Field.

History says that the selectors choose the teams for the first two tests of an End of Year tour prior to leaving New Zealand.

That's said, they have always been a pragmatic selection trio, hence you'd think they may might a minor tweak or two based on the performance against Ireland.

So just for the sheer heck of it, let's try and read the minds of the three wise men and have a crack at picking the side I think they will send out to face Italy this Sunday morning in Rome.

FRONT ROW

Wyatt Crockett always starts against Italy - pretty sure it's a contractual obligation - so lock him in at loosehead, Charlie Faumuina at tighthead, with Joe Moody and Ofa Tu'ungafasi the reserves allowing Owen Franks a week off.

With Dane Coles another likely to be spelled, Codie Taylor should start at hooker, with the forgotten man of the front row brigade Liam Coltman to earn his All Black debut off the bench.

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SECOND ROW

If Brodie Retallick passes the final part of the concussion protocols, you start him alongside Scott Barrett. If Retallick doesn't pass muster, you roll out Patrick Tuipulotu again.

LOOSE FORWARDS

This test always seemed the obvious one to give Elliot Dixon another crack at starting while the likely resting of Kieran Read should see Sam Cane captain from the openside.
Part of me wonders whether Sam Cane could start at eight with Matt Todd on the openside, but I suspect the selectors are keen to see Liam Squire start at test off the back of the scrum and against a world class operator in Italian skipper Sergio Parisse, so Todd on the bench with Steven Luatua to provide lock/six/eight cover.

HALVES

Six weeks out of the game tells me that Aaron Smith was likely to be involved in this game anyway, but given he was poor by his high standards in Chicago; Smith needs to start and play significant minutes.

So you link him up with provincial colleague Aaron Cruden with Tawera Kerr-Barlow and Lima Sopoaga the reserves; Sopoaga to cover second five as well as first five on the bench.

MIDFIELD

Having sat out the game in Chicago, Anton Lienert-Brown to start at second five and it would be prudent to pair him up with Malakai Fekitoa, in order to get them some decent game time together ahead of the test in Dublin

BACK THREE

Waisake Naholo is another player who simple needs to get more minutes under his belt while like Elliot Dixon, the Rome test always appeared the likely one to start Damian McKenzie at fullback.

That means you start Israel Dagg on the right wing, with Rieko Ioane on the bench providing back three and, because of injury, midfield cover.

NIGEL'S BEST GUESS ALL BLACKS TEAM TO FACE ITALY
1. Wyatt Crockett
2. Codie Taylor
3. Charlie Faumuina
4. Scott Barrett
5. Brodie Retallick
6. Elliot Dixon
7. Sam Cane ©
8. Liam Squire
9. Aaron Smith
10. Aaron Cruden
11. Waisake Naholo
12. Anton Lienert-Brown
13. Malakai Fekitoa
14. Israel Dagg
15. Damian McKenzie

16. Liam Coltman
17. Joe Moody
18. Ofa Tu'ungafasi
19. Steven Luatua
20. Matt Todd
21. Tawera Kerr-Barlow
22. Lima Sopoaga
23. Rieko Ioane

Nigel Yalden is on the end of year tour with the All Blacks thanks to Air New Zealand

- NZ Herald

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