All Blacks recall big guns for Wales Test
CARDIFF, United Kingdom (AFP) –
All Blacks coach Steve Hansen has named his strongest starting line-up for Saturday’s one-off Test against Wales, restoring skipper Richie McCaw and star fly-half Dan Carter to the side.
After experimenting in the first two Tests of the tour to give all of his 32-man squad a run, Hansen opted to take no chances against an out-of-form Wales desperate to redeem themselves by downing the world champions.
“We have always known that this game will be a fiercely contested match… we have known since the World Cup that this would be the the game they would be targeting in this series,” Hansen said.
“So any recent performances or results won’t have any bearing on this match.”
McCaw, rested for last week’s 42-10 win over Italy, takes the captain’s armband back from Kieran Read, while Carter replaces understudy Aaron Cruden at No.10 after warming the bench in Rome.
In all, there are nine changes from the side that defeated Italy with Tony Woodcock the only survivor in a revamped tight five featuring Andrew Hore, Owen Franks, Luke Romano and Sam Whitelock.
Liam Messam was retained as blindside flanker over Adam Thomson, whose one-match ban for stamping on Alasdair Strokosch in a 51-22 win over Scotland is being appealed by the International Rugby Board as “unduly lenient”.
Hansen said he did not want the appeal to disrupt the team’s preparation.
In the backs, Hansen stuck with the experienced centre pairing of Ma’a Nonu and Conrad Smith, who played a key role in demolishing Italy.
Fullback Israel Dagg returns from injury at the expense of Beauden Barrett, while Cory Jane replaces Hosea Gear on the right wing.
Julian Savea, this year’s top international try scorer with 10 five-pointers in seven Tests, kept his place on the left wing, making him the only player to start in all three of New Zealand’s tour matches.
Aaron Smith held off a challenge from a resurgent Piri Weepu at scrum-half, although Hansen conceded it was a close call after Weepu’s strong performance against Scotland.
The All Blacks are on a run of 19 Tests undefeated and have posted 24 straight wins over Wales since they last lost to the Red Dragons in 1953.
They enter the fixture as overwhelming favourites against a Wales team reeling after a run of five successive defeats, including a 26-19 loss to bogey team Samoa last week.
Hansen said the hosts would be determined to end their horror run and return to the form that delivered this year’s Six Nations championship and a semi-final berth at last year’s World Cup.
New Zealand wrap up their tour at Twickenham on December 1 against England, who are the last team to defeat them on a northern hemisphere tour, with a 31-28 win in 2002.
New Zealand 15-1
Israel Dagg; Cory Jane, Conrad Smith, Ma’a Nonu, Julian Savea; Dan Carter, Aaron Smith; Kieran Read, Richie McCaw (captain), Liam Messam; Sam Whitelock, Luke Romano; Owen Franks, Andrew Hore, Tony Woodcock.
Dane Coles, Wyatt Crockett, Charlie Faumuina, Brodie Retallick, Victor Vito, Piri Weepu, Aaron Cruden, Ben Smith.