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All Blacks look to deepen squad on tour

AAP logoAAP 25/10/2016 Angelo Risso

With the southern hemisphere firmly in their pocket, the All Blacks head north on Friday looking to settle some long-held questions before the Lions come to town.

The world champions will head Stateside to take on Ireland in Chicago on November 5, before jetting to Europe for Tests against Italy, Ireland again and France.

The four Tests will serve as coach Steve Hansen's last chance to try new player combinations before the British and Irish Lions land on the Shaky Isles in mid-2017.

And with Hansen's tried-and-tested first team feeling the effects of a long season for club and country, All Blacks management intend to keep shuffling their decks.

Among the candidates for a prominent role on tour include Blues livewire Rieko Ioane, who may debut against Italy, Chiefs playmaker Damian McKenzie and lock Patrick Tuipulotu.

Also among the potential All Blacks protagonists are players on the fringe of the starting side, including playmaker Lima Sopoaga, Blues prop Ofa Tu'ungafasi and midfielder George Moala.

The presence of the touring New Zealand Maori has also enabled Hansen to travel with extra loose forwards, giving opportunities to Steven Luatua, Elliot Dixon and the in-form Matt Todd.

"This tour is not about bringing a whole lot of new guys, but a real opportunity for guys who have been around us for 12 months to come and stake a claim," assistant coach Ian Foster told AAP.

"You can't just keep wheeling the same group out over the duration of the whole Test season."

The All Blacks swatted aside their Rugby Championship opposition in 2016, earning bonus point wins in all six encounters and clean-sweeping the Bledisloe Cup.

They also started their Test season with a bang, crushing Wales 3-0 in June.

However the side is expecting a different beast on northern soil as defensively-minded opponents and long-haul travel take their toll.

"It's a different challenge playing in those types of places," skipper Kieran Read said.

Read is one of a core of experienced players also heading on tour, including veteran blindside Jerome Kaino, outside backs Ben Smith and Israel Dagg and hooker Dane Coles.

Also on tour will be star halfback Aaron Smith, ushered back after missing two matches for an incident in a Christchurch Airport toilet.

A number of the senior players travelled to Chicago in 2014, when the All Blacks made their debut on American soil with a 74-6 thumping of the USA Eagles.

As was the case with flanker Ardie Savea three years ago, the All Blacks will also take an apprentice on tour in the form of Canterbury young gun Jordie Barrett.

Jordie, brother of star five-eighth Beauden and injury lock cover Scott, will have his physical and technical development accelerated under the All Blacks' wing.


* All Blacks vs Ireland, Soldier Field, Chicago, November 5

* All Blacks vs Italy, Stadio Olimpico, Rome, November 12

* All Blacks vs Ireland, Aviva Stadium, Dublin, November 19

* All Blacks vs France, Stade de France, Paris, November 26

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