Dalton Papalii on Test start: 'I just have to smack someone early'

Dalton Papalii admits he hasn’t played much at blindside flanker this season.

Dalton Papalii, right, and Sevu Reece hold up Ireland's Jack Conan during the first Test at Eden Park.

But after learning at the feet of Jerome Kaino, perhaps the best No.6 to have played for the All Blacks, the Blues skipper is clear about what he needs to do against Ireland in the second Test.

“The 6 is more in my opinion a hit man so I just have to try to smack someone early on.”

Papalii’s comment on Thursday, after he was announced in the starting line-up for a Test in Dunedin on Saturday which could clinch the series against Ireland, was said with a chuckle, but the intent was deadly serious and so it should be.

The All Blacks are under no illusions about what they will face under the roof against the Irish, who will be desperate to earn their first win on New Zealand soil to square the series.

After slotting in for Scott Barrett, who has replaced the concussed Sam Whitelock at lock, Papalii will be expected to bring a physical, even intimidatory, edge to his defence while perhaps offering a little more in terms of his pace with the ball.

“I haven’t really played much 6 this year but nothing really changes mentally or physically for me,” Papalii said. “I’m looking forward to the challenge. I want to play my own game and add my own flavour to the No.6 jersey. I want to leave a bit of a legacy with my name on that jersey.

“I’ve been following guys like Jerome Kaino growing up, watching him and then actually playing with him at the Blues and getting a few tips from him.”

That the All Blacks are still searching for a Kaino-like player speaks to his own enduring legacy. Kaino was always going to be difficult to replace after he retired in 2017, but the All Blacks felt they had found an excellent compromise in converted lock Barrett, who used his bulk and power well during the 42-19 victory over the Irish at Eden Park last Saturday.

That Barrett experiment – far more successful than the first time it was used in the 2019 World Cup – is likely to go all the way to next year’s World Cup in France but this week, and next week in Wellington, it will be on hold due to Whitelock’s head injury.

A positive spin-off may be Papalii’s extra pace in the wide channels which will be helpful in what is likely to be a high-tempo and occasionally frantic match at the indoor stadium.

Read more: Dalton Papalii to start, Folau Fakatava poised for ABs debut

“He’s a different 6 isn’t he,” Foster said of the 24-year-old Papalii, who is about to play his 14th Test. “It’s a hard ground under a roof. We’d expect the game to be fast. Dalton is a physical player in his own right but he’s also very quick and has a different skillset.”

Papalii’s move from the reserves bench, and Barrett’s to the No.5 jersey, are the only changes to the starting line-up from last Saturday’s Test, but there are changes aplenty on the bench, with Patrick Tuipulotu coming in as lock cover after Tupou Vaa’i tested positive for Covid this week.

Highlanders halfback Folau Fakatava will make his Test debut off the bench on his home ground, with Chiefs prop Aidan Ross also in line for his first cap. Will Jordan returns from Covid to cover the outside backs.

Foster confirmed loose forward Akira Ioane (foot) and prop Nepo Laulala (neck) had improved but were still not 100 percent, while David Havili, out with Covid last week, is still carrying a slight neck issue.

Fakatava, who will play back-up to Aaron Smith like he does at the Highlanders, said it was a “dream come true” to be on the brink of his first Test at home.

Folau Fakatava called his All Black opportunity at home in Dunedin a "dream come true".

Asked what he wanted to see from the powerful halfback, Foster said: “I want to see his teeth and his big smile and I want him to enjoy doing what he does. Your first Test is always a big occasion but it’s twice as big when you’re playing on your home ground. We’ve been really clear over the last few weeks on the role of a 9. The flip side is he has his way of expressing it that we don’t want to inhibit either.”

A less positive storyline likely to continue is Johnny Sexton’s presence in Ireland’s No.10 jersey despite failing a head injury assessment after suffering a heavy knock on 30 minutes at Eden Park.

Sexton appeared dazed after colliding with All Blacks skipper Sam Cane, and World Rugby’s latest protocols include that as a factor in an automatic 12-day stand-down.

Ireland, however, are adamant he is fit to play.

Asked about the difference with Whitelock’s case (out for 12 days), Foster said: “I can’t answer that question from their perspective because I don’t know the circumstances. What I do know from our perspective with Sammy is that the protocols were crystal clear. If it looks like you’ve taken a knock and then you fail an HIA you go to a 12-day programme and that’s pretty crystal clear to us.”

Foster added: “All I know that the protocols that we’re trying to abide by are pretty simple and clear to understand.”

The All Blacks team to play Ireland at Forsyth Barr Stadium in Dunedin on Saturday July 9, kick-off 7.05pm, (caps in brackets) is:

1. George Bower (12)

2. Codie Taylor (67)

3. Ofa Tu’ungafasi (45)

4. Brodie Retallick (93)

5. Scott Barrett (49)

6. Dalton Papalii (13)

7. Sam Cane (78) Captain

8. Ardie Savea (60)

9. Aaron Smith (103)

10. Beauden Barrett (102)

11. Leicester Fainga’anuku (1)

12. Quinn Tupaea (8)

13. Rieko Ioane (48)

14. Sevu Reece (18)

15. Jordie Barrett (37)

Reserves:

16. Samisoni Taukei’aho (10)

17. Aidan Ross* (0)

18. Angus Ta’avao (21)

19. Patrick Tuipulotu (41)

20. Pita Gus Sowakula (1)

21. Folau Fakatava* (0)

22. Richie Mo’unga (33)

23. Will Jordan (13)

* Denotes All Blacks debut