Ace flyhalf Dan Carter has pulled out of the All Blacks side for Saturday’s Rugby Championship clash against Argentina, forcing a sixth New Zealand change for the expected physical showdown.
Carter, the world’s leading points scorer, withdrew with a calf strain and was replaced by Aaron Cruden just hours after coach Steve Hansen had named the team which included a shake up of the forward pack.
Novice international locks Brodie Retallick and Luke Romano, with only eight Tests between them, will fill the middle row against the renowned scrummagers from South America and Victor Vito replaces Liam Messam as blindside flanker.
As expected, veteran World Cup winners prop Tony Woodcock and centre Conrad Smith slot back into the starting line-up after recovering from injury and Julian Savea wins his third cap on the left wing in place of Hosea Gear.
Prop Charlie Faumuina is set to make his All Blacks debut if he comes off the bench where he replaces Ben Franks.
Hansen said Carter had been carrying a tight left calf in training during the week but had hoped to recover.
“However, at training this morning it was apparent that he would not be able to play so we have done the sensible thing and withdrawn him from the Test match,” Hansen said.
With Cruden elevated to number 10, Beauden Barrett, who made his Test debut against Ireland in June, has been called on to the bench.
It will be the 23-year-old Cruden’s 13th Test but just his fifth start as he continues to benefit from injuries.
He was called into the All Blacks set-up during last year’s World Cup when Carter was injured and came on against Argentina in the quarter-finals when then fly-half understudy Colin Slade suffered a groin strain.
Hansen said there was room for improvement after New Zealand’s last outing, a 22-0 win over arch-rivals Australia in which the All Blacks looked patchy at times, despite the lop-sided scoreline.
“We have been working on constantly improving our game and that has again been our focus this week,” said Hansen, who was assistant coach during the World Cup win last year and took on the top job when Graham Henry stepped down.
“We were happy with our intensity and attitude in the last Test against Australia, but not so happy with our execution, when we didn’t get the decision-making process right on occasions. So we are looking for improvement in that area this weekend.”
New Zealand top the Rugby Championship table after two wins over Australia and have not lost against Argentina in 14 Tests since 1985, most recently posting a 33-10 win in the quarter-finals of the World Cup.
But the Pumas, who now have Henry in their coaching line-up, will have gained confidence from a 16-16 draw against South Africa late last month and Hansen said he was under no illusions about how tough Argentina would be.
“It is going to be very physical, especially up front, where they are traditionally very strong,” said the former Wales handler.
“We also have immense respect for their backline abilities plus they have one of the best defensive structures in modern rugby. They are always looking to work as a unit to shut you down.”
New Zealand: 15 Israel Dagg, 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 Victor Vito, 5 Brodie Retallick, 4 Luke Romano, 3 Owen Franks, 2 Keven Mealamu, 1 Tony Woodcock.
Substitutes: 16 Andrew Hore, 17 Charlie Faumuina, 18 Sam Whitelock, 19 Liam Messam, 20 Piri Weepu, 21 Beauden Barrett, 22 Ben Smith
Argentina: 15 Martin Rodriguez, 14 Gonzalo Camacho, 13 Marcelo Bosch, 12 Santiago Fernandez, 11 Horacio Agulla, 10 Juan Martin Hernandez, 9 Nicolas Vergallo, 8 Juan Martin Fernandez Lobbe (captain), 7 Juan Manuel Leguizamon, 6 Julio Farias Cabello, 5 Patricio Albacete, 4 Manuel Carizza, 3 Juan Figallo, 2 Eusebio Guinazu, 1 Rodrigo Roncero.
Substitutes: 16 Agustin Creevy, 17 Marcos Ayerza, 18 Juan Pablo Orlandi, 19 Leonardo Senatore, 20 Thomas Leonardi, 21 Martin Landajo, 22 Lucas Gonzalez Amorosino