Sam Whitelock to captain All Blacks against Wales in Kieran Read’s absence

Croak

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Authors: Rio Sports

Sam Whitelock will captain New Zealand in Cardiff on Saturday after Kieran Read was ruled out of the All Blacks’ final Test of the year against Wales. Read has hip and back pain but Rieko Ioane has made a remarkable recovery from a shoulder injury and will start on the left wing.

The loss of Read is a significant blow to a touring squad already lacking some key forwards and the head coach, Steve Hansen, has opted to install the experienced Whitelock as replacement captain rather than the fly-half Beauden Barrett who did the job against the Barbarians. Whitelock’s brother Luke also led the All Blacks against a France XV in Lyon last week and the duo will now become the first pair of brothers to captain New Zealand since the 1920s.

Wales have not beaten the All Blacks since 1953 but Hansen is wary of the home side, who have paired Scott Williams – winning his 50th cap – and Owen Williams in midfield. “History is a little bit like a drought; every day you’re one day closer to it raining,” warned Hansen, stressing his players do not want “any rocks under their towels” on their forthcoming holidays. “Whilst it’s disappointing to lose your leader and someone who’s played over 100 Test matches, you can’t do anything about it so there’s no point me getting all emotional. Other people are getting opportunities and, in the long run, that’ll be good for us.”

Hansen and his compatriot Warren Gatland met briefly at Alun Wyn Jones’s testimonial dinner on Wednesday evening and plan to share a drink after the game regardless of the outcome. “Win or lose we’ll have a drink, it’s part of what rugby is all about,” Hansen said.

Gatland thinks New Zealand will still take an awful lot of beating. “I don’t think the All Blacks are ever vulnerable,” he said. “Saturday is their last game of the year and they get a break after it. They are undefeated on this tour and they know how to grind out performances and win.

“We are excited at the opportunity to play the best team in the world and the players realise what a big game it is. We have not spoken as a group about the Lions tour because this is about Wales and we are concentrating on ourselves.”

Wales are without six players through injury, five of whom were on the summer Lions tour, and Gatland said he was concerned at the high number of casualties all teams were having to cope with. “Players are getting bigger, stronger and more powerful than they were in the past,” he said. “The collisions are absolutely huge, and the amount of pressure the body is coming under is something we need to be conscious of over the coming years. We need to protect the players.”

Wales Halfpenny; Amos, S Williams, O Williams, S Evans; Biggar, Webb; R Evans, Owens, Francis, Ball, AW Jones (capt), Shingler, Navidi, Faletau. Replacements Dacey, W Jones, Brown, Hill, Tipuric, Davies, Priestland, Roberts

New Zealand McKenzie; Naholo, Crotty, Williams, Ioane; B Barrett, Smith; Hames, Taylor, Laulala, Tuipulotu, S Whitelock (capt), Squire, Cane, L Whitelock. Replacements Harris, Crockett, Tu’ungafasi, S Barrett, Todd, Perenara, Sopoaga, Lienert-Brown.

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