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The Tall Black contenders

The second row is arguably the area that will cause the most concern for All Blacks selectors, with some of the tried and trusted stalwarts too long in the tooth to make an impact.

The most notable absence in the second row this year will be Brad Thorn, who called time on his international after the World Cup.

Filling Thorn’s boots will be the biggest challenge for All Black coach Steve Hansen, as the No.4 jersey belonged to the tough enforcer for so long without any real competition to take it off his shoulders.

Samuel Whitelock and Ali Williams are the two is the incumbent All Black locks in Super Rugby, although age is not on Williams’ side at 31 if Hansen is building for the 2015 World Cup.

Whitelock will also have stiff competition from his Crusaders teammates Tom Donnelly and Luke Romano, who will both hope to make strong claims this season.

The Chiefs pair of Craig Clarke and Brodie Retallick have been top quality for the Waikato side, although Clarke is unlikely to be considered for higher honours.

Highlanders duo of Josh Bekhuis and Jarrad Hoeata are outside bets, as Bekhuis has put in some big performances this year and Hoeata was given a taste of international exposure last year.

The long shots are Hurricanes second row Jason Eaton, who has 15 Test caps to his name, and Blues lock Anthony Boric who has been injured for the majority of the season.

All Black locks:

Starting:

4 Tom Donnelly:
He won’t be given the nod from the All Blacks’ top brass, but Donnelly is skillful, athletic and has donned the No.4 jersey for the Crusaders this season. Donnelly is a better player than Bekhuis and Romano and should be given the chance to prove himself if there is any justice in the world.

Brodie Retallick:
The 2.04 metre tall lock has been outstanding this season and is a wild card bet to be included in front of Whitelock and Williams. The 20-year-old has the raw potential to become a superstar and it would be wise to blood him against Ireland before he takes on the Springboks or Wallabies.

Bench:

18 Samuel Whitelock:
He is still just 23-years-old, but hasn’t blossomed yet and could become a great player. The important thing to note is that he isn’t a big star yet and can’t claim ownership of the No.5 jersey without a fight. Williams has been in poor form along with most of the rest of the Blues and misses out.

By Timmy Hancox

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