New Zealand, Samoa name squads for one-off test
WELLINGTON, New Zealand (AP) — All Blacks coach Steve Hansen named one new cap in his starting 15 and three more on the bench for Wednesday’s one-off rugby test against Samoa, the squad’s first-ever in the Pacific islands.
Auckland Blues winger George Moala will get his first test start among a backline that looks makeshift because of injuries and the unavailability of 17 players who played for either the Highlanders or Hurricanes in Saturday’s Super Rugby final.
Prop Nepo Laulala, scrumhalf Brad Weber and center Charlie Ngatai will start from the reserves bench and may get test debuts in the historic match.
None of the four new caps was included in the 41-man squad initially named by Hansen, but were called in a response to a growing injury list.
Samoa coach Stephen Betham also named his lineup for the match on Monday, springing a minor surprise by selecting Bath flanker Alafoti Faosilva in the No. 6 jersey ahead of France-based Maurie Fasavalu, who will start from the bench.
Faosilva will combine with former Wellington Hurricanes open-sider Jack Lam and captain Ofisa Treviranus in a strong backrow for the Samoans.
Only one player in the lineup is based in Samoa — center Faialaga Afamasaga, who was named to the reserves bench. The rest play in New Zealand, South Africa, France, England and Japan.
Scrumhalf Andy Ellis will play his first test for New Zealand since the 2011 Rugby World Cup final, combining with his regular Crusaders partner, flyhalf Dan Carter, who has been named to play his 103rd test.
Carter’s selection gives him an opportunity to press his claim for a spot in the New Zealand team at this year’s Rugby World Cup. The All Blacks will play only five tests ahead of their opening World Cup match in September and competition for places in a reduced squad for the tournament is intense.
New Zealand’s starting lineup also includes Sonny Bill Williams and Ryan Crotty in midfield, Moala and his Blues teammate Charles Piutau on the wings and veteran Israel Dagg at fulback.
Despite injuries to some key players, Hansen was able to name a strong and experienced forward pack with a total of 638 test caps, including prop Tony Woodcock (110), hooker Keven Mealamu (123) and captain Richie McCaw, who will lead the team in his 138th test, extending his New Zealand record.
Betham told New Zealand media Monday that his team was delighted the All Blacks had named a full-strength side.
“When the boys took a look at the All Blacks team, they knew what they’re in for this coming Wednesday,” he said. “Just to have Richie McCaw and Dan Carter take the field, the boys are honored but at the same time we’ve got a job to do and they know we can’t get fazed by that.”
Chiefs fullback Tim Nanai-Williams will make his test debut for Samoa and Paul Perez will start at outside center in a midfield combination with Sale’s Johnny Leota.
Alesana Tuilagi, the brother of England center Manu Tuilaga, has been given the task of marking the All Blacks’ Moala.
Tusi Pisi will wear the No. 10 jersey, combining with former Crusaders scrumhalf Kahn Fotuali’i, and Census Johnston, who has been called out of retirement for the match, will start at tighthead in a front row that includes Sakaria Taulafo and Wayne Ole Avei.
New Zealand has won all five of the teams’ previous test matches by an average of 55 points, but Samoa is expected to be far more formidable at home. A crowd of 8,000 is expected to fill Apia Park for the match and Samoa’s prime minister has declared a half-day holiday to allow others to watch on television.
“It’s exciting for the group to be playing this first-ever All Blacks test in Samoa and we know it’s going to be a special occasion,” Hansen said. “The Samoans will be incredibly physical and keen to put in a huge performance in front of their fans and we will have to play with high intensity and accuracy with plenty of physicality.
New Zealand: Israel Dagg, George Moala, Ryan Crotty, Sonny Bill Williams, Charles Piutau, Dan Carter, Andy Ellis, Kieran Read, Richie McCaw (captain), Jerome Kaino, Sam Whitelock, Luke Romano, Owen Franks, Keven Mealamu, Tony Woodcock. Reserves: Hikawera Elliot, Wyatt Crockett, Nepo Laulala, Brodie Retallick, Matt Todd, Brad Weber, Colin Slade, Charlie Ngatai.
Samoa: Tim Nanai-Williams, Alofa Alofa, Paul Perez, Johnny Leota, Alesana Tuilagi, Tusi Pisi, Kahn Fotuali’i, Ofisa Treviranus (captain), Jack Lam, Alafoti Faosiliva, Kane Thompson, Teofilo Paulo, Census Johnson, Wayne Ole Avei, Sakaria Taulafo. Reserves: Ma’atulimanu Leiataua, Viliamu Afatia, Anthony Perenise, Iosefa Tekori, Maurie Faasavalu, Pele Cowley, Faialaga Afamasaga, Ken Pisi.