Sopoaga named at flyhalf for All Blacks against Australia
BRISBANE, Australia (AP) — Lima Sopoaga will be in the All Blacks starting XV for the first time since his test debut, picked to replace injured pivot Beauden Barrett for Saturday’s third Bledisloe Cup test against Australia.
Sopoaga, who was included Thursday to start at No. 10 for only the second time in his 12-test career, is one of two changes to the New Zealand backline forced by injuries. Waisake Naholo returns on the right wing for his 14th test, replacing Nehe Milner-Skudder, who has been ruled out of the remainder of the season with a shoulder injury.
Injury forced the Wallabies to make one change to their starting lineup, with veteran lock Rob Simmons returning in place of Izack Rodda, who has had surgery on a season-ending shoulder injury. Lukhan Tuii has been selected on the bench as second row cover.
Wallabies coach Michael Cheika opted not to call up rugby league convert Karmichael Hunt, who is fit again after a three-month break with an ankle injury. Instead, Cheika has chosen to keep Samu Kerevi on the bench to cover midfield.
“Karmichael’s got a game-and-a-half under his belt now but to go to this pace he probably needs another game or two,” Cheika said.
Backrower Ned Hanigan returns to the bench after missing Australia’s 37-20 over Argentina in Mendoza two weeks ago in the last round of the Rugby Championship.
Barrett left the field after a knock to the head in New Zealand’s Rugby Championship test against South Africa two weeks ago. He passed a head injury assessment but has since reported symptoms of concussion, including headaches.
All Blacks coach Steve Hansen didn’t select a specialist flyhalf on the bench for the Bledisloe Cup test, preferring fullback Damian McKenzie to cover the position in case of injuries. Scrumhalf T.J. Perenara and center Anton Lienert-Brown returned to the reserves.
Hansen said the squad was the strongest he could name, given injuries and the unavailability of key players. Props Joe Moody and Owen Franks are already sidelined for the season and locks Brodie Retallick and Luke Romano have remained in New Zealand for personal reasons.
Scott Barrett will again partner Sam Whitelock in the second row, with backup on the bench from Patrick Tuipulotu. Sam Cane will play his 50th test at openside flanker, and captain Kieran Read will make his 100th test start in his 107th test.
New Zealand was unbeaten in the Rugby Championship and has already won the Bledisloe Cup series, beating Australia 54-34 and 35-29 in the first two tests. Hansen said Australia would be a tougher opponent on Saturday, having shown steady improvement this season.
“From Australia’s point of view, they’ll be desperate to win as they haven’t done so (against New Zealand) for some time,” Hansen said. “Our goal is to never be satisfied with where we’re at and that means it’s greater than just the outcome. It’s about how we play individually and collectively.”
Australia: Israel Folau, Marika Koroibete, Tevita Kuridrani, Kurtley Beale, Reece Hodge, Bernard Foley, Will Genia; Sean McMahon, Michael Hooper (captain), Jack Dempsey, Adam Coleman, Rob Simmons, Sekope Kepu, Tatafu Polota-Nau, Scott Sio. Reserves: Stephen Moore, Tom Robertson, Allan Alaalatoa, Lukhan Tui, Ned Hanigan, Nick Phipps, Samu Kerevi, Henry Speight.
New Zealand: Damian McKenzie, Waisake Naholo, Ryan Crotty, Sonny Bill Williams, Rieko Ioane, Lima Sopoaga, Aaron Smith; Kieran Read (captain), Sam Cane, Liam Squire, Scott Barrett, Sam Whitelock, Nepo Laulala, Dane Coles, Kane Hames. Reserves: Codie Taylor, Wyatt Crockett, Ofa Tu’ungafasi, Patrick Tuipulotu, Matt Todd, T.J. Perenara, Anton Lienert-Brown, David Havili.