Cane leads much-changed All Blacks against Italy

Sam Cane will lead an effectively second-string New Zealand side against Italy in Rome on Saturday as the All Blacks look to preserve their unbeaten record against the Azzurri.

Richie Mo’unga has been restored at flyhalf after Beauden Barrett won his 100th cap in the All Blacks’ 54-16 thrashing of Wales in Cardiff this past weekend.

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Openside flank Cane missed the Wales game, having made his return to international rugby following shoulder and chest operations with 30 minutes off the bench in the recent 104-14 rout of the United States in Washington.

Cane will be partnered by Luke Jacobson and Hoskins Sotutu in the back row as New Zealand attempt to record their 15th straight win over Italy – the teams’ match at the 2019 World Cup in Japan was called off due to Typhoon Hagibis.

With tour captain Sam Whitelock on the bench and Brodie Retallick out with a shoulder injury, lock Josh Lord will make his first Test start, the 20-year-old partnering 21-year-old Taranaki teammate Tupou Vaa’i in the second row.

“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 has been really clearheaded at training,” said All Blacks coach Ian Foster when naming his team on Thursday.

With potentially gruelling encounters with Ireland and France rounding off New Zealand’s tour of Europe, it was no surprise to see Foster ring the changes of what will be former All Blacks fullback Kieran Crowley’s first Test as Italy coach.

Foster, looking ahead to the 2023 World Cup in France, added: “With this tour we have an objective of growing the opportunities and the depth in this group.”

Mo’unga, however, has effectively been the All Blacks’ first-choice flyhalf since the start of 2019 but he missed the start of the end-of-year tour for the birth of his second child, with Barrett marking his landmark Test in Cardiff with a pair of intercept tries.

New Zealand – 15 Damian McKenzie, 14 Sevu Reece, 13 Braydon Ennor, 12 Quinn Tupaea, 11 George Bridge, 10 Richie Mo’unga, 9 Brad Weber, 8 Hoskins Sotutu, 7 Sam Cane (c), 6 Luke Jacobson, 5 Josh Lord, 4 Tupou Vaa’i, 3 Tyrel Lomax, 2 Dane Coles, 1 George Bower.
Subs: 16 Asafo Aumua, 17 Ethan de Groot, 18 Ofa Tuungafasi, 19 Sam Whitelock, 20 Shannon Frizell, 21 Finlay Christie, 22 David Havili, 23 Jordie Barrett.

© Agence France-Presse

Photo: Craig Mercer/MB Media/Getty Images

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Dylan Jack