All Blacks v Japan: Brodie Retallick relishes added leadership role in Sam Whitelock's absence

As the last senior lock standing, Brodie Retallick knows he has to step up in the absence of his missing teammates, as the All Blacks prepare to face Japan at Tokyo on Saturday.

Before the All Blacks' northern tour has even started, the team have been rocked by the withdrawals of seven players from their first week at least.

The three Barrett brothers have stayed in New Zealand on bereavement leave, while Sam Whitelock, Will Jordan and Folau Fakatava are injured.

In response, the quartet of Brad Weber, Patrick Tuipulotu, Damian McKenzie and Asafo Aumua have travelled to Tokyo to link with the team, and alleviate any disruption caused by the losses.

Adding to that, Leicester Fainga'anuku has withdrawn for family reasons, with a replacement to be named later.

The losses of Whitelock and Scott Barrett leave the All Blacks particularly short in the second row, with only Retallick, Tuipulotu and Tupou Vaa'i left as locking options.

The dearth of choices will guarantee all three players feature against Japan, although their exact roles are still to be determined.

For Retallick, 31, who has more test caps than Tuipulotu and Vaa'i combined - 98 to 57 - the added incentive of seniority is something he embraces over the coming week.

"Obviously, the team hasn't been named," Retallick said. "Even we don't know yet, but there's only three locks, we're all going to play a role - I'm not sure probably which one.

Sam Whitelock and Scott Barrett.
Sam Whitelock and Scott Barrett. Photo credit: Image - Photosport

"If it is Patty and Tupes starting, what a great opportunity for them to jump in. They've been here long enough now, they understand what's required and what's needed.

"I guess I'm the old man against the young boys, without having Sam here. We'll see what happens as the week plays out."

As one of the key players in the forward pack, alongside captain Sam Cane, Whitelock's loss will especially hit the All Blacks, but as Retallick points out, they aren't short in the leadership department and he backs his teammates to fill the void.

"All the boys [will step up]," he continued. "You've got Codie [Taylor] and Colesy [Dane Coles], who've been here a long time... Ardie [Savea], Sam [Cane], they're part of the leadership group as well.

"Sam is a big voice and obviously is a natural leader, but we'll fill the void, if there is one.

Beauden and Jordie Barrett.
Beauden and Jordie Barrett. Photo credit: Image - Getty Images

"Sam normally looks after the lineout and the detail around our attacking lineout, and Scott normally does defensive.

"I've been here long enough to jump in and take control. 

"We're not seeing it as a disruption. It's a hole not having them here, but we're on a job."

Join us at 6:50pm Saturday for live updates of the All Blacks v Japan test