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Read to skipper All Blacks

Kieran Read will captain New Zealand for the first time when the All Blacks tackle Italy on Saturday.

The 27-year-old takes over from Richie McCaw, who has been granted a rest after playing in the tour opener against Scotland last week.

Read is expected to assume the captaincy next year when McCaw takes a six-month break from playing.

The Crusaders number eight will have a strong side to work with - Tony Woodcock, Keven Mealamu, Ma'a Nonu and Conrad Smith are all set to be unleashed against the Azzurri.

Coach Steve Hansen has already made good on his promise to give all members of the 32-man squad playing time after making a total of 14 changes to the side that triumphed 51-22 at Murrayfield. Winger Julian Savea is the only player to make consecutive starts on tour.

"We were happy with our performance last weekend against Scotland but also knew there were areas for improvement ahead of the Italian Test and we have been working on getting that right this week," said Hansen.

"The team last week put a stake in the ground, and while the performance was nowhere near perfect, there was some quality rugby played. There is now an opportunity for this group to build on that."

Aaron Smith's selection at half-back - to provide service for fly-half Aaron Cruden - promises to add an element of pace to the All Blacks attack, while Beauden Barrett adds another playmaking option from full-back in the absence of the injured Israel Dagg. Dan Carter is on the bench.

All Blacks team: Beauden Barrett; Hosea Gear, Conrad Smith, Ma'a Nonu, Julian Savea; Aaron Cruden, Aaron Smith; Tony Woodcock, Keven Mealamu, Charlie Faumuina, Ali Williams, Brodie Retallick, Liam Messam, Same Cane, Kieran Read (captain).

Reserves: Dane Coles, Wyatt Crockett, Ben Franks, Samuel Whitelock, Victor Vito, Tawera Kerr-Barlow, Dan Carter, Cory Jane.


From Belfast Telegraph