Friday 20 April 2018

All Blacks' star second row has just two days to prove his fitness for Ireland battle

Nick Purewal

Sam Whitelock has two days to prove his fitness for New Zealand's revenge mission against Ireland in Dublin.

New Zealand are desperate to restore their potent first-choice lock pairing of Brodie Retallick and Whitelock for Saturday's Aviva Stadium showdown.

The All Blacks are itching to atone for their 40-29 loss to Ireland in Chicago on November 5, and would be boosted hugely should Retallick and Whitelock pair up once again.

Retallick is fit after concussion, but Whitelock is still battling ankle trouble, with assistant coach Ian Foster admitting the 28-year-old is not yet out of the injury woods.

"He has still got a few hurdles to go over in the next two days, to test it in a game-like situation," said Foster.

Ireland claimed their maiden win over New Zealand at Chicago's Soldier Field, Joe Schmidt's side downing the All Blacks for the first time in 111 years of trying.

New Zealand surrendered their record 18-match winning streak in the United States, and are now desperate to make amends on Irish soil.

Flanker Jerome Kaino was parachuted in at lock in Chicago in the absence of both Retallick and Whitelock, with Luke Romano having returned home due to a family bereavement.

Ireland targeted that weakness mercilessly, but there will be no repeat this weekend, with Retallick back in the saddle. Whitelock's potential return would strengthen the All Blacks still further, with the Crusaders second row aiming for his first action since the 37-10 win over Australia in Auckland on October 22.

The All Blacks have taken time to lend what support they can back home, after a host of earthquakes hit New Zealand's south island, with the epicentre near the town of Kaikoura.

All Blacks assistant Foster revealed the players and management had taken time out of their schedule to reach out to friends and family.

"The most important thing right now is that everyone is safe back in New Zealand, that is our first thought," said Foster.

"Once we sort that out we will move onto the next task."

Press Association

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