Retallick unlucky to be demoted to All Blacks bench
Big Brodie Retallick has good cause to feel confused about being banished to the bench for tomorrow's test in Hamilton.
The 21-year-old and injured No8 Kieran Read were, by some stretch, the All Blacks' best forwards against a resurgent Irish pack.
Retallick used his vast wing-span productively in the first spell, securing a vital lineout steal and charging down a kick which, had the bounce of the ball been kinder, could have led to a try.
He tired a little towards the end before being replaced by veteran Ali Williams, surely now to be consigned to former All Blacks status after his unfocused effort in Christchurch. The Aucklander's injury saved Hansen, a huge Williams fan, the discomfort of dropping him from the 22.
Retallick was fatigued because he had shouldered so much work.
The Chiefs rookie was the best of the All Blacks tight five and hasn't looked out of place in international rugby in his first two tests.
But Steve Hansen's desire to introduce Luke Romano is understandable.
Romano has potential to add physicality to a pack sorely missing the muscle of Brad Thorn and Jerome Kaino.
Like Retallick, halfback Aaron Smith and wing Julian Savea in Auckland, Romano will bring the zing that always accompanies an All Blacks debutant.
But why didn't Hansen go the whole hog and start both locking greenhorns? The series is won, so Sam Whitelock should have been given a rest and time to reflect that consistency is key to becoming a great All Black.
Whitelock played well in Auckland where his mobility came to the fore.
But he was disappointing in Christchurch, easily overshadowed by Ireland's excellent Donnacha Ryan.
Tighthead prop Owen Franks should be buying a Lotto ticket.
He was clearly the best No3 at the Rugby World Cup but hasn't hit his straps so far this year. Franks probably owes his starting place tomorrow to big brother Ben's second-half scrummaging struggles last weekend.
Hansen has been bold in making four unenforced changes.
Savea, Zac Guildford and flanker Adam Thomson can't complain about losing their berths. But Retallick has good cause to grumble.
But would Hansen have had the chutzpah to start Aaron Cruden if Dan Carter hadn't pulled up lame with a hamstring strain?
He should have. Cruden isn't Carter – who is?
But the Chiefs' pivot proved at last year's World Cup and in Super Rugby's first stanza that he can play at this level.
Sam Cane has been rightly rewarded for a promising performance on debut in Christchurch. The 20-year-old flanker impressed with his ball carrying and defensive work.
It's high time the All Blacks trialled someone else at No7 as a contingency in case Father Time insists captain Richie McCaw shift to a different backrow role.
On what we've seen from Victor Vito and Thomson against Ireland, McCaw appeals as the best blindside flanker in New Zealand right now.
It's a slight surprise, therefore, to see him in the No8 jersey not the No6 for the third test.
But Hansen is clearly trying to keep changes to a minimum in his loose forward division. Synchronicity between No8 and the halfback is vital and McCaw had 40 minutes linking with Aaron Smith last week. It would be tough on Smith to then introduce Liam Messam at No8 tomorrow.
It will be instructive to see how the All Black performs without Read.
The 26-year-old is in his prime and living up to the billing Crusaders coach Todd Blackadder gave him earlier this year as the best player in the world right now.
His speed, power and athleticism mean he's every bit as influential as McCaw in driving the All Blacks' effort.
The stage is set for Chiefs cobbers Cane and Messam to help fill the Read void. Fairfax NZ