Sweeping changes certain for ABs Rome test

Last updated 05:00 15/11/2012
Ali Williams
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Ali Williams will be champing at the bit to prove his doubters wrong against Italy.

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There is potential for the All Blacks' biggest selection overhaul since 2005 when coach Steve Hansen settles on his side to play Italy.

Injuries have worsened a situation that was already going to see numerous changes to the side that beat Scotland 51-22 in the tour opener.

Hansen stated all 32 of his tour party would get game time in the first two tests and it would make a lot of sense for the 11 players who did not feature at Murrayfield to get a start.

If that were to happen, the number of changes to the starting XV could approach the total revamp Graham Henry made seven years ago against Ireland.

How close Hansen gets to that number remains to be seen, but some conclusions can be drawn before the side is announced on Friday (NZT).

Tamati Ellison (toe ligaments) and Ben Smith (fractured cheekbone) have been ruled out this week, while flanker Adam Thomson could yet be suspended.

That means a new midfield with incumbents Ma'a Nonu and Conrad Smith the obvious choice in a backline that will surely include the return of the in-form Hosea Gear on one wing opposite either Cory Jane or Julian Savea.

It has been strongly signalled that Kieran Read will captain the side from No 8 and that might mean a rare week off for Richie McCaw and an even less common start for Sam Cane at openside.

Israel Dagg may yet take part with his sore buttocks well healed, but with Ben Smith out there is a strong case to look further at the only other serious fullback option in Beauden Barrett, who performed well against the Scots.

Those selections would represent potentially six changes from the side that played Scotland, leaving prop Charlie Faumuina, lock Brodie Retallick, blindside Liam Messam, hooker Keven Mealamu and halves Aaron Smith and Aaron Cruden as the remaining players yet to take the field.

Thomson's likely absence could open the door for incumbent No 6 Messam to reclaim his starting spot, while it may be the only opportunity for Cruden to continue his development at first five-eighth.

Backs coach Ian Foster's comment that Dan Carter will be covering midfield this week was a strong hint that Cruden will play at 10.

There could be some thought to letting Tawera Kerr-Barlow return in the No 9 jersey after his nervy debut.

But Aaron Smith, like Messam, is the incumbent and in need of a start if he is to push for a place against Wales a week later.

Likewise Dane Coles made a strong impression against the Scots and there would be some curiosity to give him a start with senior man Mealamu off the bench.

In the second row Ali Williams will be champing at the bit to prove his doubters wrong and Faumuina needs maximum game time, though there are a myriad front row options with five props in the tour party.

There will be a few dinosaurs roaring allegations of rotational crimes, but, unlike in 2005, most people will barely bat an eyelid.

On such a short tour it is imperative that Hansen gives players a chance to show their wares in a meaningful way with a schedule that curves upward toward Wales and England.

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