Rising star Rieko Ioane has replaced blockbusting wing Julian Savea while Kieran Read returns as captain in the All Blacks side to face the British and Irish Lions in Auckland on Saturday.
The elevation of the 20-year-old Ioane, whose Test experience consists of just two appearances off the bench — against Italy and France last year — is one of three changes to the starting XV when the All Blacks whipped Samoa last week.
Read returns after being sidelined for eight weeks with a broken thumb and Ryan Crotty has recovered from rib damage to partner Sonny Bill Williams in the centres.
The inclusion of Auckland Blues flyer Ioane comes as the All Blacks target a fast, wide game against a Lions side intent on shutting them down with a rush defence while attacking with a mix of power charging and smart kicking.
“It’ll be a battle of contrasting styles which makes it an intriguing Test to prepare for and to be part of,” coach Steve Hansen said when naming his side on Thursday.
“It’ll be a physical Test but, just as importantly, it will be a mental test.”
Hansen said it was particularly pleasing to have both imposing captain Read, and the tactically astute Crotty back in the line up.
“They’ve both been on target to return for this game all the way through, are both in great shape and, together with the rest of the squad, they’re really excited at what’s ahead of us.
“This was a really tough team to pick because there were a number of players in great form vying for positions. But in the end the three selectors felt this was the best combination.”
Savea, with 46 tries from 53 Tests, was quiet during the All Blacks 12-try fest against Samoa which appeared to count him while Hansen was impressed by the industrious Ioane, who scored a try in the Blues win over the Lions.
– “Outstanding form” –
“His outstanding form throughout the season this year, including against the Lions, has earned him his start on the wing,” the coach said.
Savea does not even make the match-day 23 while younger brother Ardie Savea and Anton Lienert-Brown, who started against Samoa in place of Read and Crotty, will be on the bench for the first Test.
Read has played little rugby this year, after joining the Super Rugby season late after off-season wrist surgery, and then playing only three games before he broke his thumb.
Saturday’s first Test will played at Eden Park where the All Blacks have won 37 consecutive Tests since 1994.
The Lions, who have won only won one of 11 previous series in New Zealand, last played at Eden Park in 2005 when the All Blacks won 38-15.
New Zealand (15-1): Ben Smith; Israel Dagg, Ryan Crotty, Sonny Bill Williams, Rieko Ioane; Beauden Barrett, Aaron Smith; Kieran Read (capt), Sam Cane, Jerome Kaino; Sam Whitelock, Brodie Retallick; Owen Franks, Codie Taylor, Joe Moody.
Replacements: Nathan Harris, Wyatt Crockett, Charlie Faumuina, Scott Barrett, Ardie Savea, TJ Perenara, Aaron Cruden/Lima Sopoaga, Anton Lienert-Brown. – Agence France-Presse