All Blacks reshape backline for South Africa test
WELLINGTON, New Zealand (AP) — New Zealand made five backline changes for Saturday’s Rugby Championship test against South Africa but the return of star center Sonny Bill Williams was delayed.
Williams was named on the bench Thursday to play his second test of the year, his first since June, after recovering from wrist and knee injuries. But the powerful center, a star in rugby and league, was forced to withdraw because of illness.
In a reshaped backline, Beauden Barrett returns at flyhalf after being rested for last weekend’s test against Argentina, reforming his halfback partnership with Aaron Smith.
Ryan Crotty takes over from the injured Ngani Laumape at inside center after recovering from a head injury and Anton Lienert-Brown has been promoted from the bench to start at center.
Rieko Ioane has recovered from a hamstring strain and will start on the left wing while Jordie Barrett joins the starting lineup at fullback, pushing Ben Smith to the right wing and forcing Waisake Naholo out of the team.
Jack Goodhue takes Williams’ place on the bench.
Coach Steve Hansen said New Zealand expects to face a fired-up South Africa team which has lost three of its last four tests, including its last two against Argentina and Australia.
“We’ve had a good week’s preparation here in (Wellington), focusing on what we need to bring to the game through our skill sets, the intensity of our play and our energy,” Hansen said. “We know that we’ll have to be at our very best in all these areas to counter an opposition we know will be desperate following their back-to-back losses.
Springboks coach Rassie Erasmus made three changes to his starting lineup after last weekend’s 23-18 loss to Australia in Brisbane.
Handre Pollard returns at flyhalf in place of Elton Jantjies, Malcolm Marx will start at hooker ahead of Bongi Mbonambi and Lukhanyo Am has been named at center.
Jesse Kriel moves from center to the right wing to replace Makazole Mapimpi, who has returned to South Africa for treatment to a knee injury.
Mbonabmi and Jantjies drop to the bench where they are joined by scrumhalf Ross Cronje who replaces Embrose Papier.
“We have to deliver an improved performance against the All Blacks,” coach Rassie Erasmus said. “Keeping our discipline and retaining possession will be key because New Zealand’s ability to counter from turnover ball is well known.”
New Zealand: Jordie Barrett, Ben Smith, Anton Lienert-Brown, Ryan Crotty, Rieko Ioane, Beauden Barrett, Aaron Smith; Kieran Read (captain), Sam Cane, Liam Squire, Scott Barrett, Sam Whitelock, Owen Franks, Codie Taylor, Karl Tu’inukuafe. Reserves: Liam Coltman, Tim Perry, Ofa Tuungafasi, Patrick Tuipulotu, Ardie Savea, T.J. Perenara, Jack Goodhue, Damian McKenzie.
South Africa: Willie le Roux, Jesse Kriel, Lukhanyo Am, Damian de Allende, Aphiwe Dyantyi, Handre Pollard, Faf de Klerk; Warren Whiteley, Pieter-Steph du Toit, Siya Kolisi (captain), Franco Mostert, Eben Etzebeth, Frans Malherbe, Malcolm Marx, Steven Kitshoff. Reserves: Bongi Mbonambi, Tendai Mtawarira, Wilco Louw, R.G. Snyman, Francois Louw, Ross Cronje, Elton Jantjies, Cheslin Kolbe.