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All Black back row is rock solid

The All Blacks loose trio have been a major strength for the World Champions and this season should be no different for the big black machine.

The settled back row of Richie McCaw, Jerome Kaino and Kieran Read is top quality, but will be broken up this season following Kaino’s long-term injury and imminent move to Japan.

Replacing Kaino will be no mean feat, as the powerful flank was New Zealand’s player of the year for 2011 and starred throughout the World Cup, standing out in a team full of superstars.

With Kaino’s position on the blindside up for grabs there are a number of contenders emerging to fill the No.6 jersey with Adam Thomson, Liam Messam and Victor Vito regarded are the leading contenders. All three players have international experience and have been in good form for their Super Rugby franchises this season.

The youngsters in the initial squad named by Steve Hansen are somewhat of a surprise, as Sam Cane, Brad Shields and Luke Whitelock all made the cut despite not being regulars for their Super Rugby sides. The trio are all promising youngsters who the coach no doubt has ear-marked to play a big part in the future of New Zealand rugby.

Crusaders openside flank Matt Todd can consider himself unlucky to have missed out on selection, as many have tipped him to be the obvious successor for McCaw in the No.7 jersey.

The Braid brother from the Blues, Luke and Daniel, have both missed out on the squad, but are worth keeping an eye on in the future, while Chiefs ace Tanerau Latimer is another strong contender,

Highlanders hardman Nasi Manu has been excellent this season at the back of the scrum, but while his ball-carrying skills are top notch he might not have all-round game to succeed at the top level.

All Black loose forwards:

Starting:

6 Adam Thomson:
The Highlanders star must be in the front of the line to take over from Kaino after yet another outstanding Super Rugby campaign. The Highlanders rely heavily on Thomson, who can play on either side of the scrum, but is probably more suited to the blindside. The big flank reads the game well and has slick handling skills and a great work-rate that must make him a shoo-in.

7 Richie McCaw:
Only a very brave man would even consider dropping the legend that is Richie McCaw and the All Blacks captain is likely to wear the No.7 jersey for a long as he wants it. The courageous flank has only just returned to action, but he is a class act and more than capable of taking on the Irish with just a few games under his belt. McCaw has played through the pain barrier before and can do it again for the All Blacks if there are any lingering injury niggles.

8 Kieran Read:
He has developed into arguably the premier No.8 in world rugby and Read combines brilliantly with McCaw making them a powerful duo in your back row. No other No.8 in New Zealand can match Read at the moment and his jersey is safe for the time being.

Bench:

19 Victor Vito:
The biggest debate in the loose forwards will be who sits on the bench. Vito appears to be the obvious candidate in the squad with his ability to play at 6 or 8, and he has held a rather weak Hurricanes pack together this season. The major competition would have come from Messam and the big Chief can feel aggrieved not to make the cut, but his time may yet come.

By Timmy Hancox

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