WELLINGTON, New Zealand (AP) — Richie McCaw will become the first player to captain the All Blacks in 100 rugby tests when he leads New Zealand against Wales on Saturday.
The 33-year-old flanker was named Thursday to captain the All Blacks for the match in Cardiff, which could provide some insight into head coach Steve Hansen’s view of his strongest lineup a year from the next World Cup.
McCaw has won 89 of his 99 previous tests as captain. He first captained the All Blacks against Wales 10 years ago today.
“There is no doubt his leadership has grown phenomenally over the years and he is now one of the all-time great leaders of any sports team,” Hansen said.
Beauden Barrett has replaced Aaron Cruden at starting flyhalf, beating out two other top-class players competing for the No. 10 jersey — Dan Carter, the world’s top test point-scorer, and the versatile Colin Slade, who was named to the bench.
Carter’s omission from the lineup reflects his lack of recent match play and his hesitance when he started at flyhalf in New Zealand’s 24-16 win over Scotland last weekend. He missed the first seven months of the season while on a sabbatical from rugby and then suffered a broken leg in the Super Rugby final in August, hampering his comeback.
Sonny Bill Williams has been named at inside center in place of Ma’a Nonu, who is still sidelined with a broken arm, and Malakai Fekitoa, who has not retained his early-season form.
Conrad Smith returns at outside center after missing the Scotland test and Charles Piutau has been named on the right wing in the absence of the injured Cory Jane. Piutau’s selection in that position allows Ben Smith to move back to fullback in place of Israel Dagg.
The New Zealand forward pack is at full strength for the match with props Wyatt Crockett and Owen Franks, hooker Dane Coles and locks Brodie Retallick and Sam Whitelock. McCaw will be joined in the backrow by blindside flanker Jerome Kaino and No. 8 Kieran Read.
Hooker Keven Mealamu has been named to play his 123rd test from the bench. He’ll also set a New Zealand record with his 362nd first-class game.
Wales has only won three times against the All Blacks in 30 matches dating to 1905. Its last victory came in 1953.
New Zealand: Ben Smith, Charles Piutau, Conrad Smith, Sonny Bill Williams, Julian Savea, Beauden Barrett, Aaron Smith, Kieran Read, Richie McCaw (captain), Jerome Kaino, Sam Whitelock, Brodie Retallick, Owen Franks, Dane Coles, Wyatt Crockett.
Reserves: Keven Mealamu, Joe Moody, Charlie Faumuina, Patrick Tuipulotu, Liam Messam, T.J. Perenara, Colin Slade, Ryan Crotty.