5 changes to New Zealand team to play Australia
BRISBANE, Australia (AP) — New Zealand’s decision to leave Aaron Cruden out of the squad for Saturday’s test against Australia had nothing to do with punishment, and everything to do with giving Beauden Barrett another chance to show what he can at No. 10.
Barrett remained at flyhalf and Colin Slade was preferred to Cruden for the bench because of his ability to cover more positions in the backline, coach Steve Hansen said.
So Cruden will remain a spectator despite his return to the extending training group following a team suspension for missing a flight to a Rugby Championship game against Argentina after a drinking session.
Cruden “is definitely not getting punished,” Hansen said. “He’s back in the group because we want him in the group. He hasn’t made the 23 simply because we think Barratt has been playing well enough to get another go.”
The Brisbane test doesn’t have any trophies riding on it, because New Zealand already retained the Bledisloe Cup with a win and a draw during its Rugby Championship-winning campaign.
But there’s plenty at stake in the trans-Tasman clash. The All Blacks are coming off a rare loss against South Africa, while the Wallabies want to draw a line under a couple of troubled weeks.
The Australians are coming off back-to-back losses in South Africa and Argentina and are in turmoil after backline utility Kurtley Beale was suspended pending a tribunal hearing into his verbal confrontation with the team business manager and the later revelations of lewd and offensive text messages he distributed. The female staffer quit.
“They’ve certainly got their backs against the wall and they’ve got nowhere to go but to come out and try to show their fans, their public, themselves, they’re good rugby players,” Hansen said.
“I see them as being a very dangerous beast this week.”
The All Blacks have made five changes to the team that lost to South Africa in the last weekend of the Rugby Championship, ending New Zealand’s 22-test unbeaten run.
Wyatt Crockett was recalled at prop and Brodie Retallick at lock — both returning from injuries — while hooker Dane Coles and flanker Liam Messam regain their starting positions. Coles displaces Keven Mealamu, who will now play his 120th test from the bench.
Corey Jane was selected on the right wing in place of Ben Smith, who is being rested after playing in all of the All Blacks’ previous tests this season.
Lock Patrick Tuipulotu, flanker Sam Cane, scrumhalf T.J. Perenara and outside back Charles Piutau join the squad as reserves.
Australia held New Zealand to a 12-12 draw in Sydney to open the Bledisloe Cup series, but the All Blacks recorded an emphatic 51-20 victory in Auckland the following weekend to retain the trophy.
They also retained the Rugby Championship, though the loss against the Springboks tarnished the trophy.
“We’re going to win every game — there’s an expectation that we do, and we don’t walk away from that,” Hansen said. “We’ve just come off a loss, which is a bit agitating for the group. And we want to rectify that.”
Places on the All Blacks tour to the United States and Europe are on the line, too, although Hansen conceded that Cruden and injured flyhalf Dan Carter were already penciled in. Carter was to have returned from a broken leg with his New Zealand province this weekend but it was decided he was not quite ready for a game.
“He’ll get named on Monday, then we’ll have to make assessments,” Hansen said. “We want to take him on the tour if he’s right.
“He’s able to train — he just can’t take a knock on it. The nerves haven’t settled down enough for him to be able to respond to a knock on it.”
New Zealand: Israel Dagg, Corey Jane, Conrad Smith, Malakai Fekitoa, Julian Savea, Beauden Barrett, Aaron Smith, Keiran Read, Richie McCaw (captain), Liam Messam, Sam Whitelock, Brodie Retallick, Owen Franks, Dane Coles, Wyatt Crockett.
Reserves: Keven Mealamu, Ben Franks, Charlie Faumuina, Patrick Tuipulotu, Sam Cane, TJ Perenara, Colin Slade, Charles Piutau.