By Greg Stutchbury
TOKYO (Reuters) – Scott Barrett has been surprisingly named to start at blindside flanker for New Zealand in their Rugby World Cup semi-final against England on Saturday, with Ardie Savea shifting to the openside of the scrum.
Sam Cane, who had operated in a twin-openside combination with Savea since the All Blacks match against Australia in Perth in August, has dropped to the bench for the clash at Yokohama Stadium.
Barrett, who normally plays at lock, spent about 15 minutes of the 46-14 quarter-final victory over Ireland last Saturday playing in the number six jersey in what coach Steve Hansen said had been a tactical decision. A year ago he came on against England early in the second half at Twickenham to give the All Blacks extra options at the lineout, where they subsequently caused all sorts of disruption on England’s throws.
The 25-year-old’s inclusion in an otherwise-unchanged starting side from that which beat Ireland adds an extra dimension to the All Blacks lineout and some additional size in the collision area.
Patrick Tuipulotu will come onto the bench as the specialist lock replacement. Cane’s move to the bench has meant there was no place for Shannon Frizell, who had been tipped to replace the injured Matt Todd as loose forward cover.
Todd injured his shoulder against Ireland and Hansen ruled him out of contention for the semi-final earlier in the week.
“The team is exactly where we want to be, mentally and physically ahead of the weekend”, Hansen said in a statement on Thursday.
“In these moments pressure is bandied around quite readily. However that pressure is always there whenever you play quality opposition, regardless of who you are.
“It’s about how you handle that in the moment and not getting distracted.”
All Blacks captain Kieran Read, who missed training earlier in the week with a calf muscle injury, was named for his 126th test.
Hansen also retained his young backline, which has an average age of 25, and will be anchored by Beauden Barrett at fullback and Richie Mo’unga at flyhalf in the dual-playmaker role the coach has preferred over the last 18 months.
Sonny Bill Williams will again come off the bench to provide some punch in the midfield in the second half.
England name their team later on Thursday.
Team: 15-Beauden Barrett, 14-Sevu Reece, 13-Jack Goodhue, 12-Anton Lienert-Brown, 11-George Bridge, 10-Richie Mo’unga, 9-Aaron Smith, 8-Kieran Read (captain), 7-Ardie Savea, 6-Scott Barrett, 5-Sam Whitelock, 4-Brodie Retallick, 3-Nepo Laulala, 2-Codie Taylor, 1-Joe Moody
Replacements: 16-Dane Coles, 17-Ofa Tuungafasi, 18-Angus Ta’avao, 19-Patrick Tuipulotu, 20-Sam Cane, 21-TJ Perenara, 22-Sonny Bill Williams, 23-Jordie Barrett.
(Reporting by Greg Stutchbury; Editing by Mitch Phillips)