THE STARTING XV features six changes to the team that started last week’s Test against Ireland – two forced by injury and four selection strategy changes – with the selection of uncapped lock Luke Romano the key feature. First five-eighth Aaron Cruden comes in for All Blacks Vice-Captain Daniel Carter who has suffered a hamstring injury which has made him unavailable for selection.
All Blacks Head Coach Steve Hansen said: “Dan pulled up with a sore hamstring after training on Tuesday. On assessment, he has suffered a mild hamstring strain to his right leg which has unfortunately ruled him out of this weekend’s Test. He will undergo further assessment over the next few days to determine when he will be fit to return to rugby.”
There are two other changes in the backs: last week’s wings Zac Guildford and Julian Savea are replaced by Hosea Gear and Ben Smith. New cap Beauden Barrett comes into the run-on reserves with Tamati Ellison on the bench as outside back cover.
In the forwards, 26-year-old Romano will make his Test debut in the second row, replacing Brodie Retallick who is on the bench. All Blacks Captain Richie McCaw moves to number eight, with Kieran Read out with concussion. Sam Cane gets his first Test start at openside flanker and loose forward Liam Messam, who was called into the All Blacks squad this week, is at blindside flanker, with Adam Thomson on the bench. Meanwhile, Keven Mealamu returns from injury and is on the bench.
Hansen said last week’s second Test against the Irish had been a true Test match.
“It was a tough, high-pressure Test. It said a lot about the character of both teams and I believe this third Test will see the same character and composure needed. The All Blacks, by their own admission, weren’t happy with the way they performed on Saturday, and in part this is a credit to the way the Irish played. They have laid down a challenge and the key will be now how we respond.
“We will have to ensure our preparation is spot on this week so we can get the performance we need on Saturday. That will mean each and every one of us doing our roles to the best of our abilities.”
15. Israel Dagg, 14. Ben Smith, 13. Conrad Smith, 12. Sonny Bill Williams, 11. Hosea Gear, 10. Aaron Cruden, 9. Aaron Smith, 1. Tony Woodcock, 2. Andrew Hore, 3. Owen Franks, 4. Luke Romano *, 5. Samuel Whitelock, 6. Liam Messam, 7. Sam Cane, 8. Richie McCaw
16. Keven Mealamu, 17. Ben Franks, 18. Brodie Retallick, 19. Adam Thomson, 20. Piri Weepu, 21. Beauden Barrett *, Tamati Ellison
* denotes new cap