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Kaino slots into lock for All Blacks

NZ NewswireNZ Newswire 3/11/2016 Angelo Risso
Jerome Kaino of the All Blacks. © Getty Images Jerome Kaino of the All Blacks.

All Blacks boss Steve Hansen has sprung a major surprise for his squad against Ireland in Chicago, naming stalwart blindside Jerome Kaino at lock.

The All Blacks will take on the Irish this weekend with severely depleted locking stocks after losing incumbents Sam Whitelock and Brodie Retallick to injury.

The most experienced stand-in for the duo, Crusaders lock Luke Romano, was expected to start at Soldier Field but returned home on Tuesday due to a family bereavement.

The loss of Romano left Blues gun Patrick Tuipulotu as the only capped lock available for the world champions, alongside uncapped alternatives Scott Barrett and Vaea Fifita.

However Hansen has eschewed giving one of the uncapped locks a debut from the first minute, moving the 33-year-old Kaino into an unorthodox role in the second row.

Scott Barrett, brother of star first-five Beauden, will make his debut off the bench after spending barely a week with the side, while Liam Squire starts at blindside.

"We just thought it was a big ask for a young fella who's only been here since Sunday, got named and left home on Friday, so there's a lot for him to take in," Hansen said.

"We're comfortable using Jerome, he's done a lot of work there."

The change is one of many for Hansen, who has repeatedly emphasised the need to shuffle his playing roster as a long rugby season draws to a close.

Star halfback Aaron Smith has been handed his No.9 jumper back after a well-publicised indiscretion in a Christchurch Airport toilet, replacing the in-form TJ Perenara.

Smith, 27, missed two Tests after the incident came to light and has kept a low profile since, but will now have the chance to re-establish himself as the world's premier halfback.

"He's served his penance, more than probably most," Hansen said.

Openside Sam Cane also returns to the fold after recovering from a hamstring injury, with livewire Ardie Savea again entrusted with the super-sub role.

In the backs, Hansen will deploy bulldozing wingers Waisake Naholo and Julian Savea simultaneously, the latter of which will play his 50th Test.

Blues centre George Moala also slots in for the prodigious Anton Lienert-Brown, with Malakai Fekitoa taking a spot on the bench.

"Anton's been brilliant for us this year and like all young players, you just can't give them too much in that first go at it," Hansen said.

The Irish head into Saturday's match burdened by their own injury worries, with loose forwards Sean O'Brien and Peter O'Mahony unavailable.

However Hansen, who oversaw the side's 2013 last-gasp escape against the Irish in Dublin, expected them to come into the match in a bullish mood on neutral territory.

"We've all got memories, you don't forget that we were bloody lucky to win that game and Ireland are a good side," Hansen said.

"They play to their strengths and they're very good at identifying and attacking the weaknesses of the opposition."

Ireland have never defeated the All Blacks, losing 27 and drawing one of their 28 Tests.

ALL BLACKS: Ben Smith, Waisake Naholo, George Moala, Ryan Crotty, Julian Savea, Beauden Barrett, Aaron Smith, Kieran Read (c), Sam Cane, Liam Squire, Jerome Kaino, Patrick Tuipulotu, Owen Franks, Dane Coles, Joe Moody.

RESERVES: Codie Taylor, Ofa Tu'ungafasi, Charlie Faumuina, Scott Barrett, Ardie Savea, TJ Perenara, Aaron Cruden, Malakai Fekitoa.

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