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Weepu, Romano win selection for NZ v Wales
06:14 AEST Fri Nov 23 2012

Aaron Smith and Luke Romano have won the most contentious selection battles in the All Blacks team named to play Wales in Cardiff on Saturday (Sunday AEDT).

Coach Steve Hansen included few surprises in naming his strongest possible team after giving all 32 of his tourists game time in Tests against Scotland and Italy.

Despite the resurgent form of halfback rival Piri Weepu, Smith will start at halfback for the third Test of the tour while Romano edges Brodie Retallick in the duel to partner Sam Whitelock in the second row.

There are eight changes from the team who beat Italy on Sunday in Rome, where 2012 incumbent Smith produced a subdued display compared to Weepu's outing in the defeat of Scotland a week earlier.

Hansen admitted it was difficult to decide who should wear No.9.

"Piri Weepu's performance is probably the one we've been searching for outside the Wellington game (against Argentina in September)," Hansen said.

"Not only did we see his experience but we saw him getting to the breakdown and clearing the ball the way we'd like him to. But at the end of the day we just felt Aaron Smith's played well all year, he can give us a good start."

Hansen said Romano was valuable as a strong ball-carrying option early in Tests while Retallick had provided energy off the bench in Tests this year.

"He (Retallick) has also had a big year and we've got to be a little mindful of that as well."

Along with locks Ali Williams and Retallick making way, three other changes to the starting forward pack see captain Richie McCaw replace Sam Cane on the openside flank, Owen Franks push prop Charlie Faumuina to the bench and Andrew Hore replace fellow veteran Keven Mealamu at hooker.

Mealamu's calf muscle niggle means tour rookie Dane Coles earns a third successive spot on the reserve bench.

In the backline fly-half Dan Carter, right winger Cory Jane and fullback Israel Dagg are restored in place of Aaron Cruden, Hosea Gear and Beauden Barrett respectively.

In-form winger Julian Savea retains the left wing berth, meaning he is the only player named to start all three Tests.

He scored two tries against both Scotland and Italy.

Team: Israel Dagg, Cory Jane, Conrad Smith, Ma'a Nonu, Julian Savea, Daniel Carter, Kieran Read, Richie McCaw (capt), Liam Messam, Sam Whitelock, Luke Romano, Owen Franks, Andrew Hore, Tony Woodcock. Reserves: Ben Smith, Aaron Cruden, Piri Weepu, Victor Vito, Brodie Retallick, Charlie Faumuina, Wyatt Crockett, Dane Coles.


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