VIDEO: All Blacks shuffle team for Tonga World Cup warm-up
TEAM ANNOUNCEMENT: The All Blacks named a revamped side Thursday for their final World Cup warm-up against Tonga this weekend, resting several key players while offering others some pre-tournament game time.
The starting XV features six changes from the side that thrashed Australia 36-0 in Auckland last month, with flyhalf Richie Mo’unga’s absent due to a sore shoulder prompting a backline reshuffle.
Mo’unga’s injury forced Steve Hansen to shift Beauden Barrett from fullback to his preferred position of flyhalf, temporarily scrapping his favoured strategy of fielding two playmakers.
Instead, veteran number 15 Ben Smith is recalled after missing out against Australia, while TJ Perenara comes in at scrumhalf, giving Aaron Smith a spell on the bench.
💪 Guess who’s back in the gym!? pic.twitter.com/yMd0yNQHy4
— All Blacks (@AllBlacks) September 5, 2019
Centre Sonny Bill Williams makes way for Ryan Crotty, who is returning from a broken thumb, and pivot Josh Ioane gets a chance to make his Test debut off the bench.
Matt Todd takes over from Sam Cane at openside flank and Codie Taylor picks up the hooker’s role from Dane Coles.
Tonga have never beaten New Zealand in five attempts but Hansen said the hosts could not afford any slip-ups as they prepare to chase a third straight World Cup, and fourth overall, in Japan.
“It’s really important that we don’t look beyond Saturday,” he said.
“It’d be an easy thing to do. We need a strong mindset of wanting to play well with lots of energy and lots of intent.”
He said New Zealand’s sizable expatriate Tongan community would be out in force to cheer on the islanders, who have fallen in the pool stages at all seven of their previous World Cup appearances.
“The fans will be very noisy and rowdy,” he said.
“They feel this is the game they can win, they’re obviously very confident and we’ll have to take that confidence out of them early.”
New Zealand: 15 Ben Smith, 14 Sevu Reece, 13 Anton Lienert-Brown, 12 Ryan Crotty, 11 George Bridge, 10 Beauden Barrett, 9 TJ Perenara, 8 Kieran Read (captain), 7 Matt Todd, 6 Ardie Savea, 5 Sam Whitelock, 4 Patrick Tuipulotu, 3 Nepo Laulala, 2 Codie Taylor, 1 Joe Moody.
Replacements: 16 Liam Coltman, 17 Ofa Tu’ungafasi, 18 Angus Ta’avao, 19 Scott Barrett, 20 Luke Jacobson, 21 Aaron Smith, 22 Josh Ioane, 23 Jordie Barrett.
Date: Saturday, September 7
Venue: FMG Stadium, Hamilton
Kick-off: 14.35 (02.35 GMT; 15.35 Tonga time)
Referee: Angus Gardner (Australia)
Assistant referees: Damon Murphy (Australia), Jordan Way (Australia)
TMO: James Leckie (Australia)