All Blacks coach Steve Hansen has named a full-strength team to face the Springboks at Newlands on Saturday in the final round of the Rugby Championship.
Last week, five stalwarts were pulled out of the All Blacks rotation to face the Pumas in Buenos Aires. Sam Whitelock, Sam Cane, Liam Squire, Nehe Milner-Skudder and Ryan Crotty have all been restored to the run-on side this week.
Flyhalf Beauden Barrett was supposed to swell that ‘rest squad’ to six players, but Lima Sopoaga was a late withdrawal from the trip to Argentina to witness the birth of his first child.
The New Zealand media had since been debating the merits of starting Sopoaga this week. That clearly wasn’t part of Hansen’s plans.
“After what happened in Albany, we’re playing a team that will be hurting incredibly,” the All Blacks coach said, referring to a 57-0 drubbing of the Boks in Round 4.
“We need to make sure that we meet that and continue on growing and developing ourselves. And to do that you’ve got to play a good team.”
On playing Barrett off the bench, Hansen said: “Then you think ‘well, you’ve got the best flyhalf in the world playing on the bench. You may as well start him.”
There are three changes up front where Whitelock replaces Luke Romano in the second row, and Matt Todd and Vaea Fifita make way for Cane and Squire.
At the back, Crotty and Milner-Skudder replace Anton Lienert-Brown and Waisake Naholo, while Ardie Savea, TJ Perenara and Negani Laumapi fall out of the matchday squad, surrendering their bench spots to Todd, Tawera Kerr-Barlow and Sopoaga respectively.
“We’ve settled in well in Cape Town this week. However, our preparation has been different because of the need to recover well from all the travel,” added Hansen.
“This has meant that there’s been less time on the park and an even greater emphasis than normal on the mental side of our preparation. As always, getting real clarity of our roles and how we want to play has been key.
“Our skill execution, our physicality and our ability to play our ‘triple threat’ game will be critical.
“The team is really looking forward to playing at Newlands after a nine-year absence. We know we have a huge fanbase here and the hospitality and reception we have received from the local folks has been fantastic.”
All Blacks: 15 Damian McKenzie, 14 Nehe Milner-Skudder, 13 Ryan Crotty, 12 Sonny Bill Williams, 11 Rieko Ioane, 10 Beauden Barrett, 9 Aaron Smith, 8 Kieran Read (c), 7 Sam Cane, 6 Liam Squire, 5 Scott Barrett, 4 Sam Whitelock, 3 Nepo Laulala, 2 Dane Coles, 1 Kane Hames
Replacements: 16 Codie Taylor, 17 Wyatt Crockett, 18 Ofa Tu’ungafasi, 19 Patrick Tuipulotu, 20 Matt Todd, 21 Tawera Kerr-Barlow, 22 Lima Sopoaga, 23 David Havili