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Preview: USA v All Blacks

This match has the potential, with no hindsight whatsoever, to be one of the most significant rugby fixtures in history, a merger of one of the great rugby nations with the richest domestic sporting market ever.

The All Blacks will open their MyRepublic Northern Tour against the US Eagles.

While Real Madrid, Barcelona and Manchester United continue to hold court as the three richest sporting entities on the planet, America is still the kingpin, with American Football (NFL) boasting 30 clubs in the Forbes Top 50 most valuable sport’s teams (the New York Yankees for the record are ranked fourth).

The connection to American Football and Rugby, the closest of the ‘Big Four’ of US codes to resemble rugby, will be buttressed when the All Blacks run out onto Soldier Field, home of the Chicago Bears.

New Zealand’s first Test against the United States since 1991, and first trip to America since 1980, will feature a sell-out crowd of 61,500 – breaking the local international rugby record set last year when 20,181 fans turned up to see the Eagles play Ireland.

It is also the first time the American national team has played in the great Midwest that is the fifth largest state in the US, Illinois, since playing Wales in 2009.

History will not be restricted to the field.

The NBC will be airing the match, while New Zealand Rugby and AIG announced earlier this week that 127 countries without broadcasting restrictions will receive live online streaming of the Test via Team All Blacks (sign up here!).

The game will also be live scored via the All Blacks official Twitter account.

All Blacks coach Steve Hansen has added 12 new players from the team that defeated Australia 29-28 in Brisbane on October 18.

The changes serve multiple purposes, primarily to give the selectors a chance to view other talent, give individuals a big opportunity to stake claims – but the sheer number of alterations will ensure that the World Champions may be lacking for complete combinations.

One suspects the United States would have noted this.

Joe Moody, Israel Dagg and Kieran Read are the only players to back up (from the last match against Australia), with the number eight taking the captaincy in the absence of Richie McCaw.

The Eagles have made three changes to their starting XV from their last match, with head coach Mike Tolkin trying to install a mindset into his team that selections were based on “how we wanted to play”.

Or more to the point, try not to worry about the impending black wave, a philosophy not dissimilar to the All Blacks who relish focusing on their own game..

Eric Fry, who played seven matches for Manawatu, has been named at loosehead prop for the hosts.

Veteran 29-year-old Samu Manoa, a centurion for Northampton, will lead the Eagles efforts from the second row – while Penrith born former basketball player and former tight end for the New York Jets Hayden Smith partners Manoa at lock.

The three forwards are prominent performers in the English Premiership.

Todd Clever captains the side and earns his 60th cap, who had a stint with North Harbour, while the very highly rated Scott Lavalla, who plays his club rugby at Stade Francais, lines up at openside flanker. 

New boy Danny Barrett (with three caps) plays at number eight.

Brooklyn's Mike Petri continues his march towards a half century of Test appearances being named at halfback, while Adam Siddall plays against New Zealand after being a prominent figure against the Maori All Blacks last year.

American Samoan powerhouse Andrew Suniula, another US player to have played in the ITM Cup with game time with Taranaki, adds his 103kg frame to the midfield, while Seamus Kely plays his fifth consecutive Test at centre.

Tactically one would expect the All Blacks to keep it relatively simple considering the number of changes, but this doesn’t hide the fact that some areas, such as dominance of ruck, have not been facets that New Zealand would normally expect to rule.

Samuel Jordan Cane will be an interesting addition in this regard, perhaps the most pure on the deck operative in the squad, and while the physicality and link skills of Richie McCaw will be missed, extra influence in the darkness of the breakdown will not go amiss.

Nathan Harris earns his second Test cap, a fundamental part of the All Blacks development as the human representation of a cyborg – Keven Mealamu – cannot keep playing forever.

Charlie Faumuina has responded to selector’s demands and his ball carrying ability could delight the Chicago crowd, the South Auckland behemoth would make the ideal defensive tackle with his bulk.

Strategically the biggest shift for the World Champions will be in the second row, with Jeremy Thrush and Patrick Tuipulotu combining for 13 Test caps.

It cannot be denied that the absence of Sam Whitelock and Brodie Retallick, monstrous figures for the All Blacks in recent times, will detract from the effectiveness of tourist’s aerial attack – although Jeremy and Pat could add more physical clout if they combine effectively.

TJ Perenara gets a chance to cement his position as a key deputy at nine, while Aaron Cruden resumes his positon at first five-eighth, as Beauden Barrett drops out of the team.

This will add an eagerness to the visitor’s approach, but again the spectre of losing the necessary amalgamation out wide is a threat with so many modifications to the backline.

Charles Piutau, Cory Jane and Dagg represent a first rate three quarter line, but the midfield of Sonny Bill Williams and Ryan Crotty will be watched with immeasurable intrigue.

Crotty could be the closest player in general mould to the absent Conrad Smith, while the return of Sonny Bill Williams will be viewed intensely, not merely by the likes of Ma’a Nonu, but the selectors - as like the dreadlocked menace SBW can spearhead a side’s attacking portfolio.