All Blacks field triple Smith threat
NEWS: New Zealand received a timely boost ahead of their opening Rugby Championships and Bledisloe Cup Test against Australia on Saturday.
New Zealand received a timely boost ahead of their opening Rugby Championships and Bledisloe Cup Test against Australia in Sydney on Saturday.
The matchday 23 that will cross the Tasman Sea features the bulk of the players who played in the last Test of the June series against England - with two changes in the starting XV.
Wyatt Crockett is at loosehead prop, in for the injured Tony Woodcock.
However, the big impetus and stimulus will come in the form of veteran centre Conrad Smith, who was injured and missed the encounters with England. He reclaimed his No.13 jersey.
Prop Joe Moody is also a chance to make his Test debut off the bench.
The return of Conrad means there will be three Smiths in the New Zealand side.
Ben Smith has been preferred to Israel Dagg at fullback. Smith started at fullback while Dagg battled a knee injury in the last two of New Zealand's test matches in England in June.
Dagg, now fully fit, failed to unseat the Highlanders star.
All Black coach Steve Hansen's decision to retain Smith means there is no place for Dagg in the match 23. Smith will combine with Cory Jane and Julian Savea in the back three.
The third Smith is Aaron and scrumhalf, another key player in the Kiwis' attacking make-up.
"It was a tough team to select in many ways because we have a lot of players in good form," Hansen said.
"But in the end we selected the group that we felt could get the job done.
"An example of that is Ben Smith. While we have been very happy with Israel Dagg's performances at No.15, Ben has come in and raised the bar to another level. The challenge for Israel now is to get his performances - when he gets the opportunity - to an even higher level."
Veteran flank Liam Messam has been left out of a matchday 23 in which Jerome Kaino will start on the blindside and Steven Luatua returns to the bench.
"He had another heavy workload during the Super Rugby campaign and we felt that giving him another week off would be the best thing. He will come back in contention for selection next week," Hansen explained.
Star flyhalf Dan Carter, who has a broken leg, was not considered because of injury - along with locks Dominic Bird and Patrick Tuipulotu.
Aaron Cruden will start again at flyhalf, while his understudy Beauden Barrett, named on the bench, will try to continue his unbeaten record as an All Black in his 20th test.
The All Blacks will be bidding for a world record 18th-straight Test win in Saturday's match, while also trying to maintain their 12-year hold on the Bledisloe Cup, which is played for in Tests against Australia.
"We are really happy with our build-up and looking to put the finishing touches to our game over the next few days," Hansen said.
"The team is hugely excited at the challenge that awaits us this weekend.
"The Bledisloe Cup is an extremely important trophy for us all and there is a strong desire within the group to begin the Rugby Championship on a positive note with a quality performance. We always enjoy playing Australia and this test is no different."
Meanwhile, prop Charlie Faumuina was a late withdrawal from selection contention after coming down with an illness.
The All Blacks fly into Sydney on Thursday for their final preparations.
A number of squad members will also be travelling to Sydney as cover for the matchday 23: Backs Israel Dagg, Colin Slade and Tawera Kerr-Barlow; along with forwards Jeremy Thrush, Nathan Harris and Kane Hames.
New Zealand: 15 Ben Smith, 14 Cory Jane, 13 Conrad Smith, 12 Ma'a Nonu, 11 Julian Savea, 10 Aaron Cruden, 9 Aaron Smith, 8 Kieran Read, 7 Richie McCaw (captain), 6 Jerome Kaino, 5 Sam Whitelock, 4 Brodie Retallick, 3 Owen Franks, 2 Dane Coles, 1 Wyatt Crockett.
Replacements: 16 Keven Mealamu, 17 Ben Franks, 18 Joe Moody, 19 Steven Luatua, 20 Sam Cane, 21 TJ Perenara, 22 Beauden Barrett, 23 Malakai Fekitoa.
Date: Saturday, August 16
Venue: ANZ Stadium, Sydney
Kick-off: 20.00 (22.00 NZ time; 10.00 GMT)
Referee: Jaco Peyper (South Africa)
Assistant referees: Romain Poite (France), Stuart Berry (South Africa)
TMO: Shaun Veldsman (South Africa)