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Dublin: 9 °C Saturday 15 December, 2018

All Blacks set for changes as Crotty and Smith likely to miss Test two

Steve Hansen looks certain to have fresh faces in his backline.

Murray Kinsella reports from Wellington

WITH THE LIONS set to introduce Sam Warburton and Maro Itoje to their starting team for the second Test, the All Blacks are also likely to have changes in their XV for the clash in Wellington on Saturday.

Centre Ryan Crotty is set to miss out after a hamstring injury forced him off during the first Test on Saturday in Auckland, while fullback Ben Smith is rated as highly doubtful to play after the latest in a string of concussions.

Ryan Crotty goes off injured Crotty could miss the rest of the series. Source: Photosport/Andrew Cornaga/INPHO

With Smith a major concern for the All Blacks, head coach Steve Hansen has called Chiefs fullback/out-half Damian McKenzie into his squad as injury cover.

The injury to Crotty could rule him out of the remainder of the Test series, with Anton Lienert-Brown now set to start in midfield alongside Sonny Bill Williams following an impressive display off the bench in the first Test.

Should Smith be ruled out, Israel Dagg is expected to move from the right wing to fullback, with one of the explosive Waisake Naholo or Julian Savea introduced to the team out wide.

31-year-old Smith suffered his third concussion since February on Saturday night at Eden Park, being replaced by Aaron Cruden in the first half, and there are concerns for the Highlanders fullback.

That said, the All Blacks have not ruled him out of contention for the second Test yet.

“Obviously there’s something going on there that’s not quite right, so we need to find out what that is,” said Hansen. ”It’s like any concussion – until such time as he goes through all the protocols and passes them he’s not going to be available.

“He’s still to go through anything in regards to testing, it’s not the sort of thing you rush into. We’ll give him a few days.”

As for the prospect of facing the Lions in the second Test at Westpac Stadium this weekend, Hansen is expecting a tweaked tactical approach from Warren Gatland’s side.

Ben Smith goes off for a concussion test Ben Smith was concussed again last weekend. Source: Photosport/Peter Meecham/INPHO

The All Blacks were direct and confrontational in playing much of their rugby off scrum-half Aaron Smith as they repeatedly won collisions, and Hansen expects something similar from the Lions second time around.

He also believes they will bring a more aggressive edge at the breakdown, where the Lions were clearly second best in Auckland.

“They’ll be like us, they’ll look at what they were successful at doing and what they weren’t,” said Hansen.

“I thought they were reasonably non-abrasive at the breakdown, they allowed us to get the ball we needed to get by not putting numbers in because they wanted to have linespeed, they wanted people on their feet in their defensive line.

“Maybe they’ll look at changing that, maybe they’ll be more aggressive at the breakdown but that comes with challenges too. That might give us more space to attack.

“I think we caught them completely by surprise by playing off number nine and not 10 which we do a lot of – they’ll look at that.

“They had genuine success moving the ball from the back, you don’t score tries like the one they did without having people capable of hurting you.  So, maybe there’ll be a bit more of that. We’ll have to sharpen up.”

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Murray Kinsella

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