Milner-Skudder to debut for All Blacks against Wallabies
WELLINGTON, New Zealand (AP) — Winger Nehe Milner-Skudder will make his debut for New Zealand while captain Richie McCaw will play his 141st test, tying the world record of Ireland’s Brian O’Driscoll, in Saturday’s Rugby Championship decider against Australia.
Hurricanes winger Milner-Skudder gets a chance in Sydney to press for a World Cup place, starting on the right wing in a debut delayed by a recent rib injury.
In other changes to the team which beat South Africa 27-20, Julian Savea returns on the left wing for his first test of 2015, Ben Smith replaces Israel Dagg at fullback and Sonny Bill Williams starts at inside center in place of Ma’a Nonu who has a shoulder injury.
World record points-scorer Dan Carter will start at flyhalf in his 105th test.
In the forwards, Jerome Kaino returns on the blindside flank and Luke Romano will start at lock in place of Sam Whitelock. Along with Whitelock, the bench also features the return of prop Nepo Laulala and flanker Sam Cane.
McCaw will join O’Driscoll as the world’s most-capped test player on Saturday and will likely claim that record alone when he plays in the return match at Auckland a week later. In his 140 tests to date, McCaw has played in a losing side on only 14 occasions.
The lineup is close to full strength and gives an indication of head coach Steve Hansen’s thinking as the All Blacks approach their World Cup defense.
Carter, who is nine points away from reaching 1,500 points in tests, appears to be firming as Hansen’s first-choice at flyhalf and, of the remaining backline positions, the right wing remains the most contentious.
The All Blacks’ starting lineup on Saturday contains a total of 868 test caps with a further 183 on the bench.
New Zealand and Austalia are both unbeaten in this season’s Rugby Championship and are tied on nine points. The winner will take the Rugby Championship while the match is also the first leg of a two-match series for the Bledisloe Cup.
“The Bledisloe Cup is an important trophy for New Zealand rugby and for this team, and Australia is one of our oldest opponents,” Hansen said. “We are well aware that they have made improvements and that their coach (Michael) Cheika wants them to be more physical and more consistent.
“Having said that, we are always looking to improve our game and understand that we will have to take a step up from our Ellis Park performance (against South Africa).
“This means we will need to bring physicality, intensity and accuracy to the occasion. I am picking this to be a brutal contest, and one we are looking forward to. It will be about us implementing our gameplan and skillsets for 80-plus minutes.”
Australia will name its team later Thursday.
New Zealand: Ben Smith, Nehe Milner-Skudder, Conrad Smith, Sonny Bill Williams, Julian Savea, Dan Carter, Aaron Smith, Kieran Read, Richie McCaw (captain), Jerome Kaino, Luke Romano, Brodie Retallick, Owen Franks, Dane Coles, Tony Woodcock.
Reserves: Codie Taylor, Ben Franks, Nepo Laulala, Sam Whitelock, Sam Cane, T.J. Perenara, Beauden Barrett, Malakai Fekitoa.