Romano wins surprise start for All Blacks
Luke Romano has bounced back from injury to earn an unexpected start at lock for the All Blacks in Saturday’s match in Sydney.
The man touted as the long-term replacement for pack enforcer Brad Thorn is the only real surprise in the starting 15 named on Thursday to face Australia in the opening match of the inaugural Rugby Championship.
There are five changes from the side who routed Ireland 60-0 in their last Test two months ago.
Youngster Brodie Retallick is surprisingly on the reserve bench behind 26-year-old Romano, who made his Test debut at Hamilton.
The qualified builder was a comparatively late starter in first class rugby but has gone from strength to strength.
Involvement in the first two Wallabies Tests this month seemed unlikely when he hobbled out of the Super Rugby semi-final loss to the Chiefs with a shoulder injury but his recovery has been rapid.
Romano will partner lock Sam Whitelock in a forward pack featuring five Cantabrians.
In-form Liam Messam has won the contentious blindside flank berth ahead of Victor Vito, who is on the reserve bench, and Adam Thomson.
Two changes from the starting pack that routed Ireland sees Keven Mealamu oust fellow veteran Andrew Hore at hooker while Kieran Read returns from injury at No.8, pushing captain Richie McCaw to his favoured openside flank role in place of youngster Sam Cane.
In the backs, Dan Carter and Cory Jane have overcome injury and replace Aaron Cruden and Zac Guildford respectively.
As expected, Ma’a Nonu is inserted for his first Test of the year in place of injured outside centre Conrad Smith, with standby squad member Sonny Bill Williams retaining his spot at No.12 in the other half of a fearsome midfield.
Hosea Gear has retained the left wing spot ahead of youngster Julian Savea in a tight selection call.
Just eight of the starting XV – which boasts 624 combined caps – started the previous Test against Australia, last October’s 20-6 win in the World Cup semi-final at Auckland.
A squad of 24 were to fly to Sydney on Thursday, with Thomson and prop Charlie Faumuina travelling as standby options.
© AAP 2013
All Blacks team: Israel Dagg, Cory Jane, Ma’a Nonu, Sonny Bill Williams, Hosea Gear, Dan Carter, Aaron Smith, Kieran Read, Richie McCaw (captain), Liam Messam, Sam Whitelock, Luke Romano, Owen Franks, Keven Mealamu, Tony Woodcock. Reserves: Ben Smith, Aaron Cruden, Piri Weepu, Victor Vito, Brodie Retallick, Ben Franks, Andrew Hore.
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