Kieran Read returns to All Blacks for England test
HAMILTON, New Zealand (AP) — Backrower Kieran Read, who was voted the best rugby player in the world last year, will return to the All Blacks lineup for Saturday’s third test against England after a long battle against concussion.
Read has played only one Super Rugby match since April 19 when he suffered his second concussion of the season as a result of a high tackle. He was named to play in the first test against England two weeks ago but later withdrew as he continued to display concussion symptoms, including dizziness and headaches.
Read is now deemed fit to return at No. 8, forcing Jerome Kaino to the blindside flank and Liam Messam to the bench.
The 22-year-old Highlanders center Malakai Fekitoa starts his first test, replacing Conrad Smith who has a broken thumb.
The All Blacks selectors under head coach Steve Hansen have kept changes to a minimum, instead challenging their players to improve their form after severely flawed performances in the first two tests.
New Zealand needed a late try to win the first test 25-20 in Auckland and played only 20 minutes of good rugby in winning the second 28-27 in Dunedin, clinching the three-match series.
“Whilst we felt we improved from the first test to the second, there are areas of our game we want to improve on and that has been the focus for us this week,” Hansen said. “We enjoy playing in Hamilton and in front of a sold-out Waikato Stadium we are looking forward to producing a quality performance that we can all be proud of.”
Read’s return bolsters the All Blacks’ backrow, though his match fitness will be in question after an almost eight-week layoff.
Fekitoa has made only one appearance for the All Blacks, as a replacement in the first test at Eden Park. But he has had an outstanding Super Rugby season and his attacking ability will add an exciting new dimension to the All Blacks’ backline while Smith’s experience may be missed.
Cory Jane has been retained on the right wing after a dreadful second test performance, emphasizing the selectors’ determination to give players time to find form.
Aaron Cruden retains the starting flyhalf role after an improved second test performance and as the selectors continue to use Beauden Barrett in an impact role. Barrett now holds the world record of 18 consecutive wins in his first 18 tests.
The All Blacks’ win in last weekend’s test was their 16th in succession and improved their record against England to 30 wins from 38 matches since 1905.
England is due to name its lineup later on Thursday and has already indicated Freddie Burns will take over from the injured Owen Farrell at flyhalf.
New Zealand: Ben Smith, Cory Jane, Malakai Fekitoa, Ma’a Nonu, Julian Savea, Aaron Cruden, Aaron Smith, Kieran Read, Richie McCaw (captain), Jerome Kaino, Sam Whitelock, Brodie Retallick, Owen Franks, Dane Coles, Tony Woodcock.
Reserves: Keven Mealamu, Wyatt Crockett, Charlie Faumuina, Patrick Tuipulotu, Liam Messam, TJ Perenara, Beauden Barrett, Ryan Crotty.