Carter: No holding back in Tokyo
New Zealand may be fielding an experimental side, but that does not mean they are planning to "go easy" on Japan in their one-off Test.
New Zealand may be fielding an experimental side, but that does not mean they are planning to "go easy" on Japan in their one-off Test in Tokyo on Saturday.
The All Blacks named inspirational captain Richie McCaw and ace flyhalf Dan Carter in a team featuring two new caps for their year-end tour opener.
Carter, regarded by many as the best player ever in his position, promised he would not be taking Japan lightly as he looks to put a nightmare run of injuries behind him on his long-awaited return after a shoulder problem.
"The shoulder's coming along well," he said.
"I've started contact in the last couple of weeks and I'm getting the strength back.
"It's always tough to have to watch games and frustrating being injured but you just have to work hard to get back into contention."
All Black coach Steve Hansen has opted to use fringe players in a starting 15 that features 14 changes from the 41-33 Bledisloe Cup victory over Australia on October 19 in New Zealand's first ever Test against the 'Brave Blossoms' on Japanese soil.
His team then travel to Europe to face France, England and Ireland to complete their four-Test tour.
Hansen insisted the All Blacks would have the utmost respect for Japan in their first meeting outside the World Cup after mauling them 83-7 two years ago and 145-17 in 1995.
"We are not looking at the margin of victory," he said. "It's a great opportunity for our less-capped players to drive the All Blacks' week and preparation.
"Selectors have been very mindful of using this game to gather some more information on our younger players," added Hansen, who has allowed eight of his top players to skip the Tokyo Test and fly directly to Europe.
Wing Frank Halai and lock Dominic Bird have both been handed debut Test caps, while fellow newcomers prop Jeffery Toomaga-Allen and loose forward Luke Whitelock were named on the bench.
Halai will partner Auckland Blues team-mate Charles Piutau on the wing, with Ben Smith and Francis Saili forming a new-look combination in the centres.
Tawera Kerr-Barlow gets his first Test start at halfback, while Beauden Barrett stands in for regular fullback Israel Dagg.
Even McCaw's inclusion has an experimental look to it, with Hansen slotting him in at number eight to give his understudy Sam Cane more game time in the openside flank's seven jersey normally reserved for the veteran skipper.
"It's always tough with the skipper in at No.8 - and deservedly so," said Cane, looking to stake his claim to stepping into McCaw's giant shoes. "Hopefully I can get a few starts and build confidence to put pressure on. I hope a bit of sun comes over the hill."
In the forwards, Bird - who at 2.06 metres (six foot nine) is set to become the tallest All Black ever - will line up alongside fellow lock Jeremy Thrush.