Barrett at 10 for All Blacks, Hodge in for Australia
SYDNEY (AP) — Beauden Barrett has held off the challenge of rising star Richie Mo’unga and will wear the No. 10 jersey for the All Blacks in Saturday’s first Bledisloe Cup and Rugby Championship test against Australia.
Barrett, who was World Rugby Player of the Year in each of the last two seasons, has been out of form and his grip on the flyhalf role had come under threat from Mo’unga, who steered the Crusaders to the Super Rugby title this month for the second straight year.
The All Blacks selectors had been under pressure to select the form player but instead decided to stick with Barrett and with Damian McKenzie as cover on the bench, leaving Mo’unga out of the 23-man squad. McKenzie is favored as the replacement because of his ability to cover other backline positions.
The selectors also sprang a surprise in naming Jack Goodhue to play his second test at outside center ahead of the more experienced Anton Lienert-Brown. The decision allows the All Blacks to take advantage of the established and successful midfield combination between Goodhue and his Crusaders teammate Ryan Crotty, who starts at inside center.
Australia also made a notable selection at outside center, with the versatile Reece Hodge starting in the position for the first time in his test career.
Coach Michael Cheika picked Tom Robertson to make only his third test start at loosehead prop after veteran Scott Sio was ruled out with a shoulder injury. Allan Alaatoa comes onto the bench as a prop replacement along with the giant youngster Taniela Tupou.
Tatafu Polota-Nau will play his 83rd test at hooker after returning to Australia from England and flyhalf Matt Toomua has been included on the bench after signing with the Melbourne Rebels after three years with English club Leicester. Center Jack Maddocks is in line for a test debut after edging Tom Banks for the last spot on the bench.
Australia and New Zealand have captains returning from injury. All Blacks skipper Kieran Read will play his first test this season after recovering from back surgery, while Michael Hooper will lead Australia after overcoming a hamstring strain.
In other notable All Blacks selections, Waisake Naholo will start on the right wing, allowing his Highlanders teammate Ben Smith to shift into his specialist role at fullback.
Brodie Retallick will play his first test since September, reuniting in the second row with Sam Whitelock, who will become the first All Blacks lock to play 100 tests.
Coach Steve Hansen said Whitelock has been “an outstanding contributor to this team for a long time, both on and off the field.
“To play one test for the All Blacks is an achievement in itself but to be good enough to be selected and play 100 tests is a remarkable feat,” he said. “In doing so he will join what is a small group of very special All Blacks.”
The Crusaders provide five of the All Blacks pack, including the entire front row of Owen Franks, Codie Taylor and Joe Moody.
Australia: Israel Folau, Dane Haylett-Petty, Reece Hodge, Kurtley Beale, Marika Koroibete, Bernard Foley, Will Genia; David Pocock, Michael Hooper (captain), Lukhan Tui, Adam Coleman, Izack Rodda, Sekope Kepu, Tatafu Polota-Nau, Tom Robertson. Reserves: Tolu Latu, Allan Alaalatoa, Taniela Tupou, Rob Simmons, Pete Samu, Nick Phipps, Matt Toomua, Jack Maddocks.
New Zealand: Ben Smith, Waisake Naholo, Jack Goodhue, Ryan Crotty, Rieko Ioane, Beauden Barrett, Aaron Smith; Kieran Read (captain), Sam Cane, Liam Squire, Sam Whitelock, Brodie Retallick, Owen Franks, Codie Taylor, Joe Moody. Reserves: Nathan Harris, Kar Tu’inukuafe, Ofa Tuungafasi, Scott Barett, Ardie Savea, T.J. Perenara, Damian McKenzie, Anton Lienert-Brown.