By Jack Tarrant
TOKYO (Reuters) – Captain Kieran Read will lead the All Blacks in his final test alongside other departing veterans Ben Smith, Ryan Crotty and Sonny Bill Williams in the Rugby World Cup third-place match against Wales in Tokyo on Friday.
Read, who turned 34 on Saturday, will effectively finish his 127-test career with the All Blacks at Tokyo Stadium after deciding to join Japanese club Toyota at the conclusion of the World Cup.
Coach Steve Hansen said Read had been the ideal figure to carry the All Blacks forward following the retirement of inspirational captain Richie McCaw in 2015.
“He’s a special player and we identified that he would lead after Richie,” Hansen told reporters.
“He … has played a lot of rugby in a position that’s tough. He’s charismatic. The boys love him. The management all love him.
“He was really driven to come to this World Cup and do well.”
Smith, who is also leaving New Zealand to join Pau in France, has been named on the right wing for his 84th test as Hansen makes eight changes from the starting side that were beaten 19-7 by England in the semi-final.
Crotty has been teamed with Williams in the midfield for one final time. The pair had been expected to be the starting combination in Japan but were instead usurped by youngsters Anton Lienert-Brown and Jack Goodhue.
Crotty, 31, is also heading to club rugby in Japan, while Williams is expected to leave New Zealand rugby although he has not confirmed his plans.
Beauden Barrett will again play fullback with Richie Mo’unga at flyhalf as Hansen gives the dual playmaker tactic one final outing before the coach walks away after 16 years with the team, the last eight in charge.
With Smith’s selection on the right wing, Hansen reinstated Rieko Ioane to the number 11 jersey, handing the 22-year-old the opportunity to give the next All Blacks coach a reminder of his explosive power.
“It’s a good backline,” Hansen added. “You’re pretty lucky if you can sub Goodhue and Lienert-Brown with SBW (Williams) and Crotty, and Reece and Bridge with Ben Smith and Rieko.”
Lock Scott Barrett, who started at blindside flanker against England, has moved back into the second row to partner Brodie Retallick, with Shannon Frizell taking the number six jersey.
Dane Coles has also returned as the starting hooker where he will provide a formidable front row with Joe Moody and Nepo Laulala.
New Zealand: 15-Beauden Barrett, 14-Ben Smith, 13-Ryan Crotty, 12-Sonny Bill Williams, 11-Rieko Ioane, 10-Richie Mo’unga, 9-Aaron Smith, 8-Kieran Read (captain), 7-Sam Cane, 6-Shannon Frizell, 5-Scott Barrett, 4-Brodie Retallick, 3-Nepo Laulala, 2-Dane Coles, 1-Joe Moody
Replacements: 16-Liam Coltman, 17-Atu Moli, 18-Angus Ta’avao, 19-Patrick Tuipulotu, 20-Matt Todd, 21-Brad Weber, 22-Anton Lienert-Brown, 23-Jordie Barrett.
(Writing by Greg Stutchbury; Editing by Peter Rutherford)