Big names dumped as NZ seek salvation in ‘must-win’ test
Longtime All Blacks mainstays Owen Franks and Ben Smith have been dropped for Saturday’s must-win Bledisloe Cup test against Australia in Auckland as the world champions seek salvation.
For what coach Steve Hansen has labelled a “massive, must-win” test he resisted the temptation to make wholesale changes following the record 47-26 defeat by the Wallabies in Sydney a week ago.
Instead, only three players have been axed for the return clash in Auckland but they are all big names with Rieko Ioane joining Franks and Smith on the reject pile.
The two other changes involve Sonny Bill Williams returning at inside centre for the injured Jack Goodhue with Patrick Tuipulotu is in for the suspended Scott Barrett.
Coming into the reshaped backline are greenhorn wings George Bridge (three tests) and Sevu Reece (one) while Anton Lienert-Brown moves out one place to accommodate Williams.
In the forwards Nepo Laulala, with 19 tests behind him, takes over as tighthead prop from the 107-test Franks.
Neither Franks, Smith (79 tests) nor Ioane (26 tests) were retained as replacements.
A week ago the All Blacks were on the wrong side of all the key statistics and with their forward pack out-muscled which left scrum-half Aaron Smith struggling to give a quick service to the backline.
But Hansen remains keen to see his twin playmaker scheme gel with Beauden Barrett at fullback and Richie Mo’unga at fly-half.
He has also maintained faith in the loose forward trio of Kieran Read, Sam Cane and Ardie Savea.
“We have worked hard this week on our game and all that comes with it,” Hansen said.
“We’ve had a great preparation and really excited and looking forward to a massive, must-win match for the Bledisloe Cup on Saturday.”
The Bledisloe Cup, played annually between the trans-Tasman neighbours, has been in New Zealand hands since 2003 under a system which says the cup goes to the winner of the series and in the event of a draw it stays with the holder.
This puts pressure on the Wallabies to win on Saturday if they are to regain the trophy.
They last beat the All Blacks at Eden Park in 1986 and have lost all 18 matches they have played at the New Zealand fortress since then.
New Zealand (15-1): Beauden Barrett; Sevu Reece, Anton Lienert-Brown, Sonny Bill Williams, George Bridge; Richie Mo’unga, Aaron Smith; Kieran Read (capt), Sam Cane, Ardie Savea; Sam Whitelock, Patrick Tuipulotu; Nepo Laulala, Dane Coles, Joe Moody
Replacements: Codie Taylor, Ofa Tu’ungafasi, Angus Ta’avao, Jackson Hemopo, Matt Todd, TJ Perenara, Ngani Laumape, Jordie Barrett.