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New Zealand opt for combination of youth and experience for Italy test 

New Zealand opt for combination of youth and experience for Italy test 

New Zealand Sevu Reece

New Zealand head coach Ian Foster has chosen a blend of veteran experience and youthful dynamism after naming his team to face Italy in Rome this weekend.

The All Blacks started their Autumn Nations Series in style with a dominant 54-16 win over Wales in Cardiff and now head to the Stadio Olimpico to face an Italy side they have beaten all 14 times the teams have met.

Flanker Sam Cane, who has 75 caps of Test experience, captains the side, while 77-cap Dane Coles starts at hooker, with Richie Mo’unga pulling the strings at fly-half and Damian McKenzie slotting in at full-back.

REPORT: New Zealand impress in victory over Wales

But there is also a youthful flavour to the starting XV, especially in the second row where 21-year-old Tupou Vaa’i starts alongside Josh Lord, who will be making just his second New Zealand appearance after debuting against the USA earlier this year.

The centre partnership also lacks international experience, with Quinn Tupaea and Braydon Ennor having less than ten caps between them, but Foster is excited to see what his team can offer – especially his young lock pairing.

“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 has been really clear-headed at training,” said Foster. “It’s his first start, which is exciting for him, and we’ve got a lot of faith in him.”

“We’ve had a great week here in Rome. It’s very stimulating to be in this city and, whilst we can’t get out as much as we like, it’s great to have the players experience a new culture, and that’s all part of generating energy in a squad when you’re touring.

“We are ready and prepared for this weekend. We know it’s a really big game for us when it comes to improving our skillsets and decision-making as we’ve made that a bit of a focus this week.

“The team that’s been selected has been given the job of ensuring we grow in those areas from our game against Wales.

“With this tour we have an objective of growing the opportunities and the depth in this group. We’ve been driving our performances upwards because the competition and the energy in the squad has been huge. This week is about this particular group putting another marker down.”

Italy may never have beaten New Zealand in their history but with a new coach in Kieran Crowley – who was successful with Italian club side Benetton before getting the Azzurri job – Foster won’t be underestimating them.

“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,” added 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.”

New Zealand team to face Italy: 15. Damian McKenzie, 14. Sevu Reece, 13. Braydon Ennor, 12. Quinn Tupaea, 11. George Bridge, 10. Richie Mo’unga, 9. Brad Weber; 1. George Bower, 2. Dane Coles, 3. Tyrel Lomax, 4. Tupou Vaa’i, 5. Josh Lord, 6. Luke Jacobsen, 7. Sam Cane (c), 8. Hoskins Sotutu
Replacements: 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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