All Blacks v Italy: Sam Cane returns to lead overhauled All Blacks in Rome

Flanker Sam Cane will return to lead a newlook All Blacks side to take on Italy in Rome.

Cane, who was sidelined by a chest/shoulder injury in March, will return to start his first test since 2020, reclaiming the captaincy in essentially a second-string All Blacks side, as coach Ian Foster keeps his frontline players fresh for the final push of their tour against Ireland and France.

Richie Mo'unga has been handed the keys at first-five, offering a chance to respond to Beauden Barrett's standout display in the 54-16 win over Wales, albeit against much lesser opposition. 

Dane Coles will also make a rare start at hooker to play his 78th test, continuing his recovery from calf injury. He'll pack down between Tyrel Lomax and George Bower in an overhauled front row.

All Blacks v Italy: Sam Cane returns to lead overhauled All Blacks in Rome
Photo credit: Getty/Newshub.

Wing Sevu Reece, halfback Brad Weber and lock Tupou Vaa'i have also earned promotion from the Cardiff bench.

Rounding out the loose forward trio with Cane will be Luke Jacobson at blindside flanker and Hoskins Sotutu off the back of the scrum.

Vaai' forms a locking tandem with Taranaki prospect Josh Lord, 20, who'll make his first All Blacks start, after coming off the bench against USA last month.

"Tupou is a quality footballer and we have seen more signs of that in the last two weeks, while Josh, on his first tour, has learnt things quickly and at training, he looks really clear-headed," says Foster.

"It's his first start, an exciting time, but we've got a lot of faith in him."

In the midfield, Quinn Tupaea and Braydon Ennor will reprise their starting roles from Washington DC, with Damian McKenzie returning to fullback and George Bridge slotting onto the left wing.

On the bench, lock Sam Whitelock, fullback Jordie Barrett and midfielder David Havili all back up from Cardiff, while flanker Shannon Frizell is poised for his first test appearance of the year.

Foster says the experience of Coles and Cane will be critical in such a fresh-faced run-on side, allowing them a valuable chance for top-flight match conditioning.

"They've been out for a long time," he notes. "They had good minutes against the USA, a breather last week, and now is the chance to get into that starting position and get another good test under their belts.

"We're excited to have them back in. You hear their voices nice and clear, they’re jumping out of their skins and they know it’s a great opportunity for them."

While the All Blacks have never lost to Italy - who went winless through this year's Six Nations tournament - Foster says they'll go into the match facing a little of the unknown against the Kiwi-coached side.

"They have a new coach in Kieran Crowley, so they'll have a different philosophy and I like that for us, because it means we will go into the match with a bit of an edge," says Foster.

"While Italy may not have been happy with their recent Six Nations results, things generally shift when a new regime comes in, so we're expecting them to play with a lot of passion in front of their home crowd."

All Blacks:1-George Bower, 2-Dane Coles, 3-Tyrel Lomax, 4-Tupou Vaa’i, 5-Josh Lord, 6-Luke Jacobson, 7-Sam Cane (capt), 8-Hoskins Sotutu, 9-Brad Weber, 10-Richie Mo'unga, 11-George Bridge, 12-Quinn Tupaea, 13-Braydon Ennor, 14-Sevu Reece, 15-Damian McKenzie

Reserves: 16-Asafo Aumua, 17-Ethan de Groot, 18-Ofa Tuungafasi, 19-Sam Whitelock, 20-Shannon Frizell, 21-Finlay Christie, 22-David Havili, 23-Jordie Barrett.

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