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All Blacks vs Italy: Richie Mo’unga at 10, Sam Cane named captain to face Azzurri

Anything Beauden can do, Richie can do … well let’s just see as the All Blacks look to keep their perfect test record against Italy intact in Rome early Sunday (NZT).

Ian Foster has named, as expected, pretty much his second-string lineup to face the Italians in Kiwi Kieran Crowley’s first match in charge of the Azzurri, at Rome’s Stadio Olimpico (2am kickoff NZT).

With two tough tests to finish the northern tour against Ireland and France, the All Blacks have kept as many of their frontliners as possible on ice as they look to finish their long road trip in style.

From last week’s 23 who demolished the Welsh 54-16 in Cardiff, five bench players step into the starting XV in the form of wing Sevu Reece, first five-eighths Richie M’;unga, halfback Brad Weber, lock Tupou Vaa’i and prop Tyrel Lomax.

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Cardiff starters Sam Whitelock, David Havili and Jordie Barrett also slot in for bench duty in a team that will be led by 2020 captain Sam Cane (in his 76th test), who takes another step down the comeback trail in his return from chest and shoulder surgery.

Despite the fact it is essentially Foster’s midweek lineup, the All Blacks coach nonetheless sends out a strong team in a bid to extend their 15-0 record against the Italians.

That is encapsulated nowhere more than at No 10 where Mo’unga, who missed the start of this long road trip for the birth of his second child, gets the chance to respond to Beauden Barrett’s masterclass performance in the first receiver’s role in Cardiff.

Mo’unga had been the first-choice All Blacks No 10 pretty much since 2019, but has now been usurped by Barrett who has very much made the most of his opportunities on this tour. This will be Mo’unga’s chance to remind his coaches of his class, albeit against opposition not expected to provide too much in the form of staunch resistance.

Sam Cane is back at No 7, and as captain, in the All Blacks to face the Azzurri in Rome.

Cameron Spencer/Getty Images

Sam Cane is back at No 7, and as captain, in the All Blacks to face the Azzurri in Rome.

Other features of the team include the selection of Cane and 77-test hooker Dane Coles as starters to continue their paths back from long spells out with injury.

Cane heads a loose trio also including Hoskins Sotutu and Luke Jacobson, with Shannon Frizell making his first appearance of the year off the bench. Youngsters Tupou Vaa’i (his fourth start in his 10th test) and Josh Lord (in just his second international appearance) comprise the second row, while Tyrel Lomax and George Bower bookend Coles up front.

Weber will ignite a likely backline that has rising midfielders Quinn Tupaea and Braydon Ennor and proven wings Reece and George Bridge outside. Damian McKenzie will loom as the roving fullback.

Foster said the team had been charged with “improving skillsets and decision-making” from last week in Cardiff. “This week is about this particular group putting another marker down,” he said.

On his fledgling second-row combination, Foster said: “Tupou is a quality footballer and we have seen more signs of that in the last two weeks; while Josh, on his first tour, has learnt things quickly, and at training he looks really clear-headed. It’s his first start, an exciting time, but we’ve got a lot of faith in him.”

It was also an important outing, the coach added, for the more experienced Cane, Coles and Frizell on their paths back.

“With Sam and Dane … they’ve been out for a long time, they had good minutes against the USA, a breather last week and now is the chance to get into that starting position and get another good test under their belts. We’re excited to have them back in. You hear their voices nice and clear, they’re jumping out of their skins and they know it’s a great opportunity for them.”

The All Blacks have scored 89 tries and 628 points this year – a record points haul. They are now chasing down England’s mark of 644 points scored in 17 games in 2003.

ALL BLACKS: Damian McKenzie, Sevu Reece, Braydon Ennor, Quinn Tupaea, George Bridge, Richie Mo’unga, Brad Weber; Hoskins Sotutu, Sam Cane (capt), Luke Jacobson, Josh Lord, Tupou Vaa’i, Tyrel Lomax, Dane Coles, George Bower. Reserves: Asafo Aumua, Ethan de Groot, Ofa Tuungafasi, Sam Whitelock, Shannon Frizell, Finlay Christie, David Havili, Jordie Barrett.



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