All Blacks: Rieko Ioane set to be unleashed on Italy

By Gregor Paul in Rome

The indications are strong that youth will be given its chance this week in Rome, with the All Blacks likely to pick a team that has a number of unfamiliar faces.

Defeat to Ireland has not forced any major re-think about how they should tackle the Italy test. The original plan was to take the opportunity to rest a few senior players and let some of the younger men have their moment.

What that means is that in all probability, Rieko Ioane will make his test debut. Damian McKenzie will be given a run somewhere; Steven Luatua is presumably going to take the field at some stage and Scott Barrett will have another whirl.

It probably also means that Sam Cane will be given the captaincy and Aaron Cruden and Lima Sopoaga will share the play-making duties at No 10.

The coaching team know plenty about two-thirds of their squad and now they need to ask a few questions of those they have taken but who haven't had much or any involvement this year.

"We had a plan for the first couple of games and we will stick to that," says All Blacks assistant coach Ian Foster. "There are a few injuries and a few guys who have joined us from home - Sam [Whitelock] and Brodie [Retallick] - they are good. We will assess them but overall it is looking like it will go accordingly.

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"We want to make sure at this stage of the year - we are coming into our 12th test match - and our belief is that we need a lot of freshness to get the performance right. Coming off a loss, that hurts but it doesn't change our attitude about the importance us using the resources in our full squad with which to get through this tour.

"We have had a disappointing start but the plan is to make sure that we go out on to the park against Italy fresh and excited and there will be plenty to play for."

It will be something of a balancing act to rest players who will have big roles to play against Ireland and France and to ensure there is enough experience, leadership and calm on the field in Rome.

As much as the All Blacks want to find out about their younger players, they also want to play well and win the game. Italy may sit down the rankings but their pack can be a handful.

Starting with the likes of Wyatt Crockett, Charlie Faumuina and Cane in the forwards will provide a base level of experience and it's possible that Aaron Smith, a little out of sorts in Chicago, will be given another chance to play his way into form. With Cruden the probable starter at No 10 and Israel Dagg likely to be in the back three mix somewhere there should again be ample experience and decision-making nous in the backs to support the younger element.

As a precaution, the selectors may stack the bench with senior players to provide some weaponry should it be needed.

"We have been reasonably consistent in how we tour at this time of year and we kind of feel that if you bring guys over, you need to give them an opportunity as much as possible," said Foster.

"That is the only way to learn and ironically it does bring energy into the group at the stage a lot of guys have had a lot of rugby. So it does freshen the group up and adds a bit more to it so it serves two purposes."

- NZ Herald

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