DUBLIN (Reuters) – Midfield back Ryan Crotty was the only change to the All Blacks side that started against England as New Zealand coach Steve Hansen named his strongest available team for their mouth-watering clash against Ireland in Dublin on Saturday.
Crotty will slot into his more comfortable inside centre role alongside Canterbury Crusaders team mate Jack Goodhue, having shifted between the number 12 and 13 jerseys depending on his midfield partner throughout his international career.
The 30-year-old comes into the side Hansen named on Thursday as a replacement for the injured Sonny Bill Williams from the starting XV who rallied for a 16-15 win over England last week.
Last Saturday, Crotty came on for Williams after around 30 minutes in atrocious conditions at Twickenham and immediately settled the All Blacks, who were struggling to recover from a 15-0 deficit against Eddie Jones’ side.
Crotty’s elevation to the starting side left a vacant position on the bench, which will be filled by Waikato Chiefs back Anton Lienert-Brown.
Hansen resisted the temptation to make any further changes against the world’s second-ranked side and stuck with the dual playmaker option from last week, with Damian McKenzie retained at fullback and Beauden Barrett at flyhalf.
The world champions resorted to a tactical kicking game in London due to the weather and struggled to get any front-foot ball against a fired-up England.
Crotty, however, provided some midfield thrust as the All Blacks changed tactics to hold the ball for longer and Hansen said he expected a similarly intense match against the Six Nations champions.
“On Saturday, we’ll be playing an opponent who will want to keep the ball for long periods of time, and if they aren’t getting what they want, then they’ll kick and try to pressure us,” Hansen said.
“For us, we’ll need to be strong at set piece, both on our ball and theirs, and be prepared to work hard with or without the ball.
“When the momentum comes our way, we’ll need to take the opportunities that will come, as the team that makes the most of their opportunities will win the game.”
Team: 15-Damian McKenzie, 14-Ben Smith, 13-Jack Goodhue, 12-Ryan Crotty, 11-Rieko Ioane, 10-Beauden Barrett, 9-Aaron Smith, 8-Kieran Read (captain), 7-Ardie Savea, 6-Liam Squire, 5-Sam Whitelock, 4-Brodie Retallick, 3-Owen Franks, 2-Codie Taylor, 1-Karl Tu’inukuafe.
Replacements: 16-Dane Coles, 17-Ofa Tuungafasi, 18-Nepo Laulala, 19-Scott Barrett, 20-Matt Todd, 21-TJ Perenara, 22-Richie Mo’unga, 23-Anton Lienert-Brown.
(Reporting by Greg Stutchbury in Wellington; Editing by John O’Brien)