28 Oct 2016

All Blacks to shuffle selections

1:20 pm on 28 October 2016

The All Blacks leave for their northern hemisphere tour today, which is Steve Hansen's last chance to trial new player combinations before they host the British and Irish Lions in mid-2017.

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

Lima Sopaga is a chance of playing tonight after being elevated to reserves.

Lima Sopoaga is expected to get a lot of game time on the All Blacks end of year tour Photo: Photosport

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 midfielder 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.

Matt Todd will start at openside flanker against the Springboks.

Matt Todd playing against South Africa during the 2016 Rugby Championship Photo: Photosport

New Zealand assistant coach Ian Foster said the four Tests will give those who've played mere minutes for the All Blacks this season a chance to prove themselves.

"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," Foster said.

"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.

But 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," captain Kieran Read said.

All Blacks captain Kieran Read during All Blacks win against Australia, August 27 2016

All Blacks captain, Kieran Read Photo: AFP

Read is one of a core of experienced players also heading on tour, including veteran blindside flanker 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.


Get the RNZ app

for ad-free news and current affairs

We have regular online commentary of local and international sport.