Hansen rings the changes
All Black coach Steve Hansen has made wholesale changes to the New Zealand team to face Scotland on Sunday.
All Black coach Steve Hansen has made wholesale changes to the New Zealand team to face Scotland on Sunday, recalling the out-of-form Piri Weepu and introducing a new midfield line-up.
With Hansen intent on giving all of his 32-man squad a run in the opening two Tests of New Zealand's European tour, only five players from the All Blacks' last outing against Australia were included in the starting 15.
Weepu, who struggled for form with the Blues in the Super Rugby competition, was handed a chance of redemption, replacing Aaron Smith at scrumhalf for the Test at Murrayfield.
Hansen also named veteran hooker Andrew Hore in the starting line-up and gave Tawera Kerr-Barlow and Dane Coles the opportunity to earn their debut caps from an expanded eight-man reserve bench.
Perhaps the biggest surprise was the inclusion of Highlanders duo Tamati Ellison and Ben Smith together in midfield for the first time at the expense of Ma'a Nonu and Conrad Smith.
While Ellison and Ben Smith are relatively inexperienced at Test level, with 12 caps between them compared to Nonu and Conrad Smith's 136, they have worked well together at the Highlanders, hinting that Hansen is looking to the future.
The All Blacks chief resisted the temptation to rest captain Richie McCaw and star flyhalf Dan Carter, pointing out that the starting team was still a strong side boasting 556 Test caps, backed up by 267 on the bench.
He said his charges were excited about playing in front of a packed house at Murrayfield and downplayed Scotland's poor record against New Zealand, with the All Blacks posting 26 wins and two draws in 28 meetings.
"We've had a good build-up this week and the key for us has been to get our preparation spot on so we can put in a performance in Sunday which we are proud of," he said.
"However, we know the Scots will lift for this Test match and we expect them to be very combative."
New Zealand enter the tour undefeated in 17 matches, although their hopes of breaking international rugby's 18-game record for consecutive Test victories was scuppered by an 18-18 draw with Australia last month.
After Sunday's Test, they play Italy on November 17, Wales on November 24 and England on December 1.
New Zealand: 15 Israel Dagg, 14 Cory Jane, 13 Ben Smith, 12 Tamati Ellison, 11 Julian Savea, 10 Daniel Carter, 9 Piri Weepu, 8 Victor Vito, 7 Richie McCaw (captain), 6 Adam Thomson, 5 Samuel Whitelock, 4 Luke Romano, 3 Owen Franks, 2 Andrew Hore, 1 Wyatt Crockett.
Replacements: 16 Dane Coles, 17 Tony Woodcock, 18 Ben Franks, 19 Ali Williams, 20 Sam Cane, 21 Tawera Kerr-Barlow, 22 Beauden Barrett, 23 Ma'a Nonu.
Date: Sunday, November 11
Venue: Murrayfield, Edinburgh
Kick-off: 14.30 (14.30 GMT)
Referee: Jérôme Garces (France)
Assistant referees: Pascal Gauzere (France), Simon McDowell (Ireland)
TMO: Graham Hughes (England)