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Romano ruled out of Ireland Test

NZ NewswireNZ Newswire 1/11/2016
Luke Romano during an All Blacks training session at Eden Park on June 7, 2016 in Auckland, New Zealand. © Phil Walter/Getty Images Luke Romano during an All Blacks training session at Eden Park on June 7, 2016 in Auckland, New Zealand.

The All Blacks will likely provide either Scott Barrett or Vaea Fifita with a debut Test cap from the first minute after lock Luke Romano pulled out of the squad for the match against Ireland in Chicago.

Romano, 30, will return to New Zealand after suffering a family bereavement, leaving Blues ball-carrier Patrick Tuipulotu as the only capped lock fit to play against Ireland on Saturday.

Incumbent second-rowers Sam Whitelock and Brodie Retallick will both miss the Soldier Field match with an ankle injury and concussion respectively.

Romano, who plies his trade for the Crusaders, was expected to start against Ireland in their absence.

Assistant coach Ian Foster told reporters on Tuesday that no replacements would be brought in for Romano despite the world champions' locking stocks being further depleted.

He felt the 22-year-old Barrett, brother of star first-five Beauden, and 24-year-old Fifita were capable of producing the goods on the Test stage.

Loose forwards Steven Luatua and Jerome Kaino were also capable of stepping into the second row.

"They've come in and done what we need them to do, they've got some good teachers around them," Foster said. "Scott and Vaea particularly are working really hard, like everyone else, to get up to speed quickly and are doing a good job."

Both locks have shone at the provincial level in 2016, with Barrett helping Canterbury secure an eighth title in nine years and Fifita impressing for Wellington.

However both will need to familiarise themselves with Test rules around the breakdown after playing the national provincial champion campaign under now-aborted trial laws.

"Both look like they've learned really quickly, so it's not really an issue," Foster said. "Going back to how we've been playing is probably going to suit their instincts a little better."

Foster also confirmed that star halfback Aaron Smith would be available for selection against Ireland after missing two Tests due to a tryst in an airport toilet.

"As far as we're concerned, it's back to normal," Foster said.

TJ Perenara had ably deputised for Smith in his absence, scoring four tries and making 200 passes across the entire Rugby Championship.

New Zealand will take on an Irish outfit at the cusp of a new northern season but burdened by injuries to key loose forwards Sean O'Brien, Iain Henderson and Peter O'Mahony.

Ulster first-five Paddy Jackson will also miss the trip across the pond, leaving uncapped Joey Carbery as back-up for star playmaker Johnny Sexton.

Foster said his side would be on red alert for Ireland's versatile approach, with an ability to play both a kicking and running game.

"Part of the preparation is making sure we're ready for whatever comes," Foster said. "We know they like to kick a lot, particularly if they get put under pressure a bit, and they've got a good attacking kicking game as well."

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