There appears a strong chance All Blacks captain Kieran Read could be one of only two starting survivors from last week's loss in Dublin.

Given the result against Ireland, some may immediately jump to conclusions this would represent a form-related cull. The reality is Italy in Rome always offers fringe players a much-needed chance to impress.

In such circumstances, it is common to see a new captain, as was the case with Luke Whitelock leading a second-string All Blacks team to a commanding 69-31 victory over Japan in Tokyo, prior to the real business of this northern tour commencing.

But with Matt Todd returning to Japan, and Liam Squire flying home after injuring his knee last week, the All Blacks only have four fit loose forwards in Rome.


Steve Hansen has the option of shifting Ardie Savea from openside to No 8, where he performed so well earlier this year in Argentina.

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Yet there is a sense Read, like all those in back jerseys harnessing the hurt, may be keen to right a few wrongs from Dublin.

In comparison to some, Read should also be in reasonable physical shape having played eight of 13 tests this year after returning to the Crusaders in July following back surgery.

Further evidence that he could continue came from Dane Coles, the likely candidate to stand in as skipper should Read sit out the All Blacks' final test of the season.

Kieran Read. Photo / Photosport
Kieran Read. Photo / Photosport

Asked if he was in line to captain the All Blacks for the first time, Coles hinted Read would retain the role.

"I'm not too sure what the plan is from Steve but I probably feel like I'm a little bit more comfortable than I was for the Japan week so if that did come I'd take that with open arms but I think the big fella Reado still has a bit of gas in the tank so I'm sure he'll be pretty keen to play this week," Coles said. "We'll see what the big dogs have planned."

A loose forward trio comprising Read, Dalton Papalii and Vaea Fifita would, therefore, not surprise.


Savea has been exceptional at openside in Sam Cane's absence but he admitted to still being sore after 74 minutes in last week's brutal loss.

Savea also has the ability to cover all three loose forward roles from the bench, and it may make sense to have another decent look at the promising Papalii who made his debut in the seven jersey against Japan.

Two years ago in Rome, the All Blacks thumped Italy 68-10 in what proved Steven Luatua's last test before departing to join Bristol.

This time around, the All Blacks could make 13 starting changes.

With Sonny Bill Williams another to return home after struggling for fitness and form, Ngani Laumape could further strengthen his compelling case after a hat-trick in Japan.

Laumape could partner Anton Lienert-Brown - the Chiefs midfielder deserving of a start after providing strong impact off the bench for the All Blacks all season.

Jordie Barrett could be set for another test start against Italy. Photo / Getty
Jordie Barrett could be set for another test start against Italy. Photo / Getty

Though not set in stone, Richie Mo'unga will be favoured to continue his growth at this level with a third start at No 10.

This shapes also shapes as a good chance to rebuild Jordie Barrett's confidence after last teaming up with Waisake Naholo in Tokyo, and Rieko Ioane's young legs may be asked to go around one more time in the back three.

Scott Barrett made an impression after replacing Squire at six last week but will probably revert to his favoured role in combination with Patrick Tuipulotu in the second row.

Coles, expected to sink the front row alongside Nepo Laulala and Ofa Tuungafasi, is one of many keen to make amends after his role in a couple of missed lineouts in the closing stages against Ireland.

"It's always nice that you get another week to right that wrong I suppose. I'm sure that will motivate a lot of the lads and I'm sure, without knowing the team, I imagine there'll be a few guys who haven't had much footy as well, so that will be an exciting time for them."

After battling back from the frustration of multiple injuries, Coles will relish the opportunity to finish his trying season on a positive note.

"I've had to have those extra conversations and do a bit more homework because I don't want to come on the field and let the team down. I've done the work I needed to and got back to where I need to be."

Possible starting team for Italy:

Jordie Barrett, Waisake Naholo, Anton Lienert-Brown, Ngani Laumape, Rieko Ioane, Richie Mo'unga, TJ Perenara, Kieran Read, Dalton Papalii, Vaea Fifita, Scott Barrett, Patrick Tuipulotu, Nepo Laulala, Dane Coles, Ofa Tuungafasi.