JOHN DAY: Three All Blacks with a point to prove against Samoa

15/06/2017

The majority of the All Blacks team to face the British and Irish Lions in next weekend's first Test will already be locked in, but there are a few spots that are still up for grabs.

Aaron Smith

Halfback is the obvious place to start, with Aaron Smith given the first opportunity in the number nine jersey against Manu Samoa at Eden Park.

It must've been a tight call for coach Steve Hansen and the selectors to overlook incumbent TJ Perenara, who has an established combination with first-five Beauden Barrett and rose to number one in the halfback rankings during the end-of-year tour while Smith was battling his off-field issues.

But with the British and Irish Lions showing exceptional line speed on defence during their matches so far, it's Smith's faster pass that could be the key to unleashing the All Blacks' backline against the tourists.

It wasn't long ago that the 58-Test Highlander was regarded as the best in the world in his position, but that honour now belongs to Lions and Ireland halfback Conor Murray, and Smith will need to remind the selectors that he's still the man to go to with a big performance against Samoa.

Israel Dagg

Right-wing is a decision between two men: in-form Highlanders flyer Waisake Naholo and incumbent Israel Dagg.

Dagg is one of the best in the country at defusing bombs, which there will be plenty of from the Lions, but his return from injury for the Crusaders has hardly been inspiring - while Naholo's made every post a winner over the past month.

The number 14 jersey is where Dagg made his mark for the All Blacks last year and you get the feeling the selectors would like to have the security of the 29 year-old in the starting team, but he's going to have to step it up against Samoa if he's to keep Naholo out of the Test team.

Jerome Kaino

Veteran blindside flanker Jerome Kaino returns from a knee injury and his form and physicality at Test level has never been questioned.

There are other options starting to emerge though in Highlanders hard-man Liam Squire, who's coming back from a broken thumb; Kaino's abrasive Blues teammate Akira Ioane is also making big strides; Vaea Fifita's set to make his debut; while Ardie Savea continues to show his versatility.

There's no doubt 34 year-old Kaino will be the starting number six in the first Test, but if he's unable to dominate the way we know he can, his spot on the side of the scrum could be under threat.

All Blacks:

1.Joe Moody, 2.Codie Taylor, 3.Owen Franks, 4.Brodie Retallick, 5.Sam Whitelock, 6.Jerome Kaino, 7.Sam Cane, 8.Ardie Savea, 9.Aaron Smith, 10.Beauden Barrett, 11.Julian Savea, 12.Sonny Bill Williams, 13.Anton Lienart-Brown, 14.Israel Dagg, 15.Ben Smith

Reserves: 16.Nathan Harris, 17.Wyatt Crockett, 18.Charlie Faumuina, 19.Scott Barrett, 20.Vaea Fifita, 21.TJ Perenara, 22.Lima Sopoaga,23. Jordie Barrett.

John Day is a rugby reporter for RadioLIVE. 

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