3 changes to All Blacks for test against Australia
AUCKLAND, New Zealand (AP) — Ryan Crotty will start a test for the first time in an all-new midfield combination with Conrad Smith as part of three changes to the All Blacks lineup for Saturday’s Rugby Championships test against Australia.
Two of those changes are forced by injuries. Inside center Ma’a Nonu has a bruised shoulder, opening the way for Crotty to make his starting debut after seven tests off the bench.
He will combine in midfield with Smith who returns for his 79th test after missing last weekend’s clash with the Wallabies in Sydney due to the birth of his first child.
Liam Messam, who was rested for the Sydney test, rejoins the starting lineup at blindside flanker in place of Jerome Kaino, who will be out from four to six weeks with an elbow injury.
Crotty has won the starting role ahead of Malakai Fekitoa, who played the first test in Smith’s place and is more comfortable at outside center. Fekitoa remains on a bench which is unchanged from the Sydney test.
The All Blacks have made no selection changes in direct response to their poor performance in Sydney, where they were held to a 12-12 draw that ended a world record run of 17 straight test victories.
They are now under pressure to defend their 20-year winning streak on Auckland’s Eden Park, where they are also unbeaten in 17 tests against Australia since 1986.
“While we were disappointed with the draw last weekend, we are excited by the opportunity that presents itself this weekend,” All Blacks coach Steve Hansen said.
“It’s another test match against Australia, the chance to win the Bledisloe Cup and the first home test of the Rugby Championship in front of our home fans.
“We have been working hard on all aspects of our game this week and there’s a definite resolve to improve the quality of our performance on Saturday.”
The All Blacks were heavily penalized and lost two players to yellow cards in last weekend’s opening test and have placed emphasis on improving their discipline on Saturday. Prop Wyatt Crockett, who was one of the players sin-binned, has held his starting place in the absence of Tony Woodcock who is injured.
Star flyhalf Dan Carter was also not considered because of injury. Nonu is expected to be fit for New Zealand’s next Championship match, against Argentina in Wellington in two weeks’ time.
The All Blacks have won 29 of their 32 tests since the 2011 World Cup final on Eden Park with two draws and one loss. They have won 102 of 150 tests against Australia.
The Wallabies earlier this week named an unchanged lineup for the match.
New Zealand: Ben Smith, Cory Jane, Conrad Smith, Ryan Crotty, Julian Savea, Aaron Cruden, Aaron Smith, Kieran Read, Richie McCaw (captain), Liam Messam, Sam Whitelock, Brodie Retallick, Owen Franks, Dane Coles, Wyatt Crockett.
Reserves: Keven Mealamu, Ben Franks, Charlie Faumuina, Steven Luatua, TJ Perenara, Beauden Barrett, Malakai Fekitoa.