All Blacks: Who will play against Ireland?

By Gregor Paul in Rome

The All Blacks performance in Rome provided confirmation rather than revelation in regard to their probable team selection for the next test against Ireland.

The quality of the performance in Rome was high. A number of individuals pushed their cause, but not so much to start this week in Ireland - more to say they have what it takes to play test football and deserve their place in the squad.

Wyatt Crockett managed 70 minutes - a long day out for a big man - and may have the selectors thinking about starting him ahead of Joe Moody. But probably not. The fact they gave Crockett such a long outing suggests they are not expecting him to have to power through such a long shift in Dublin. They may also have been conscious of keeping Moody's powder dry.

Sam Whitelock didn't play but did appear to be running freely as he went through a few fitness drills before the game and he is possibly going to be ready to resume his place in the second row alongside Brodie Retallick, who has cleaned the pipes so to speak with a 25 minute run in Rome.

He replaced Patrick Tuipulotu whose energy was obvious and impact considerable. Given the struggles the All Blacks had in Chicago, they may look to have a specialist lock on the bench for the re-match and presumably Tuipulotu earned that role in Rome.

The loose trio of Jerome Kaino, Sam Cane and Kieran Read will surely return as along as all three are fit. Another run out has given the selectors a bit more confidence about playing Aaron Smith from the start and just because he had an off day in Chicago, that doesn't mean they no longer see him as the best halfback in the world.

The midfield pairing of Anton Leinert-Brown and Malakai Fekitoa are really the only option unless Ryan Crotty makes a miracle recovery. The aim for those two against Italy was to gel and work effectively in tandem which they did.

If there is a tricky area to pick, it will be the back three. Israel Dagg was impressive and his ability in the air will be a trump card. Ireland were superb at kick and chase at Soldier Field and the All Blacks will want to tidy up their work in that area.

Bringing Dagg is in the best way to make an immediate improvement. Who joins him on the other wing, though? Waisake Naholo was good against Italy - busy, accurate and aware. Julian Savea is always hard to leave out, though so the decision might come down to gut feel. Which of those two do the selectors feel is in the best physical and mental shape to give the team the most? They can probably hedge their bets to some extent as whichever one misses out, may be the best choice to have as the outside back cover on the bench.

- NZ Herald

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