All Blacks make wholesale changes for Fiji clash
TEAM ANNOUNCEMENT: Beauden Barrett will start at flyhalf and scrumhalf Aaron Smith will captain the All Blacks for the first time when New Zealand meet Fiji at Dunedin on Saturday in the first of two Tests.
Barrett is in competition with Richie Mo’unga for the All Blacks No.10 jersey after returning from a sabbatical in Japan.
Mo’unga has been New Zealand’s starting flyhalf for most of the last two seasons and Barrett has been fitted into the national team at fullback in a dual playmaker role.
Barrett played at flyhalf during his time in Japan and has made clear he wants to play at flyhalf again for the All Blacks.
Mo’unga started at No.10 in the All Blacks’ first Test of the year against Tonga last week. Barrett now has a chance to make his claim to the role, with Mo’unga left out of the match 23. Damian McKenzie has been named on the bench as cover.
Smith has been picked to lead the All Blacks in his 98th Test, restoring his former halves partnership with Barrett.
“Aaron is a special player with real mana and a natural leader and his preparation is second to none,” said head coach Ian Foster.
Lock Brodie Retallick returns to the line-up for the first time in almost two years after also taking up a contract in Japan. He will combine in the second row with Patrick Tuipulotu.
Loosehead prop George Bower and openside flank Ethan Blackadder will start a Test for the first time after making debuts from the bench against Tonga. Blackadder is the son of former All Blacks loose forward and Crusaders head coach Todd Blackadder.
Jordie Barrett will start at fullback in a back three with the Crusaders pair of George Bridge and Sevu Reece on the wings.
Will Jordan, who scored five of the All Blacks’ 16 tries in their 102-0 win over an undermanned Tonga, is named on the bench.
“The Fiji team will bring a very different challenge from Tonga,” Foster said. “They are a more established side made up of primarily overseas-based players who are amongst some of the better players in Europe.”
The inexperienced Simione Kuruvoli will start at scrumhalf for Fiji in place of Frank Lomani, who has been unable to travel from Australia to New Zealand because of the COVID-19 outbreak in NSW. Queensland-based scrumhalf Mosese Sorovi and flyhalf Teti Tela were similarly ruled out by suspended travel.
New Zealand: 15 Jordie Barrett, 14 Sevu Reece, 13 Rieko Ioane, 12 David Havili, 11 George Bridge, 10 Beauden Barrett, 9 Aaron Smith (captain), 8 Hoskins Sotutu, 7 Ethan Blackadder, 6 Shannon Frizell, 5 Brodie Retallick, 4 Patrick Tuipulotu, 3 Nepo Laulala, 2 Codie Taylor, 1 George Bower.
Replacements: 16 Dane Coles, 17 Ethan de Groot, 18 Tyrel Lomax, 19 Samuel Whitelock, 20 Luke Jacobson, 21 Finlay Christie, 22 Damian McKenzie, 23 Will Jordan.
Date: Saturday, July 10
Venue: Forsyth Barr Stadium, Dunedin
Kick-off: 19.05 (19.05 FJT; 07.05 GMT)
Referee: Nic Berry (Australia)
Assistant referee: Damon Murphy (Australia), Graham Cooper (Australia)
TMO: Chris Hart (New Zealand)