WELLINGTON (Reuters) – All Blacks coach Steve Hansen has rung the changes for Saturday’s Bledisloe Cup clash against Australia at Eden Park, with the experienced trio of Ben Smith, Owen Franks and Rieko Ioane all dropped from the side.
The All Blacks were humbled 47-26 by the Wallabies last week in Perth, with the victory giving Michael Cheika’s side an opportunity to regain the symbol of trans-Tasman supremacy for the first time since 2002.
Nepo Laulala comes in for Franks at tighthead prop while wingers Smith and Ioane have been replaced by George Bridge, making his first start in his fourth test, and Sevu Reece, who has just one previous test cap.
With Hansen in the process of finalising his squad for the Rugby World Cup, Franks (108 tests), Smith (79) and Ioane (26) have looked out-of-sorts in recent weeks and have all dropped out of the matchday 23.
Hansen was also forced to make two other changes with lock Scott Barrett suspended following a red card in Perth, while centre Jack Goodhue picked up a minor hamstring strain.
Sonny Bill Williams has returned at inside centre after spending the last two weeks regaining match fitness in New Zealand’s provincial competition and will partner Anton Lienert-Brown in the midfield.
Lienert-Brown, 24, has moved from inside centre to the number 13 jersey in place of Goodhue.
Patrick Tuipulotu replaces Barrett, who has been suspended for three weeks, and will partner Sam Whitelock in the second row.
The All Blacks were dominated in the collisions last week but Hansen has retained Ardie Savea at blindside flanker in the loose forwards with Sam Cane and captain Kieran Read.
He also signalled his intention to persist with the dual playmaker tactic at next month’s World Cup with Richie Mo’unga again selected at flyhalf and Beauden Barrett at fullback.
The pair have failed to gel in the All Blacks’ two previous matches but showed hints of their attacking threat at times last week.
New Zealand: 15-Beauden Barrett, 14-Sevu Reece, 13-Anton Lienert-Brown, 12-Sonny Bill Williams, 11-George Bridge, 10-Richie Mo’unga, 9-Aaron Smith, 8-Kieran Read (captain), 7-Sam Cane, 6-Ardie Savea, 5-Sam Whitelock, 4-Patrick Tuipulotu, 3-Nepo Laulala, 2-Dane Coles, 1-Joe Moody.
Replacements: 16-Codie Taylor, 17-Ofa Tuungafasi, 18-Angus Ta’avao, 19-Jackson Hemopo, 20-Matt Todd, 21-TJ Perenara, 22-Ngani Laumape, 23-Jordie Barrett.
(Writing by Greg Stutchbury; Editing by Peter Rutherford)