Auckland – The All Blacks have made three changes for the return Rugby Championship Test against the Wallabies in Auckland on Saturday including a Test start for centre Ryan Crotty.
Bruising stalwarts Ma'a Nonu and Jerome Kaino have failed to recover from injuries picked up in last week's 12-12 battle of attrition in Sydney, while Conrad Smith returns after missing the first match due to the birth of his son.
The loss of Nonu produces a new All Blacks centre pairing with the safe Crotty preferred to run on in the 12 jersey ahead of the explosive Malakai Fekitoa who deputised for Smith in the first Test.
Crotty has taken the field as a replacement in his previous seven Tests.
The 32-Test loose forward Liam Messam, who slipped behind Kaino in the pecking order this year, returns to the starting line up in the one change to the forwards.
The All Blacks, the defending Rugby Championship titleholders, considered themselves lucky to escape with a draw in Sydney as the fired up Wallabies brought their 17-match winning streak to an end.
Coach Steve Hansen said their task now is to regroup and defend an impressive record at their Eden Park fortress in Auckland where they have won 32 consecutive games dating back to 1994.
“While we were disappointed with the draw last weekend, we are excited by the opportunity that presents itself this weekend,” he said.
“We have been working hard on all aspects of our game this week and there's a definite resolve to improve the quality of our performance.”
Other than the forced changes, Hansen has given the rest of the side a chance to prove themselves after last week's lacklustre and error-strewn performance in Sydney.
That means preferring the running skills of Ben Smith at fullback ahead of the raking kicks of Israel Dagg, while Aaron Cruden remains at fly-half and Wyatt Crockett at loosehead prop.
The one change on the reserves bench sees prop Charlie Faumuina's return from illness at the expense of Joe Moody.
Hansen confirmed that Nonu had suffered deep shoulder bruising but is expected to be available for selection for the Test against Argentina in Napier in two weeks.
Kaino, however, has an injured elbow that is expected to keep him sidelined for up to six weeks.
New Zealand (15-1):
Ben Smith; Cory Jane, Conrad Smith, Ryan Crotty, Julian Savea; Aaron Cruden, Aaron Smith; Kieran Reid, Richie McCaw (captain), Liam Messam; Sam Whitelock, Brodie Retallick; Owen Franks, Dane Coles, Wyatt Crockett.
Replacements: Keven Mealamu, Ben Franks, Charlie Faumuina, Steven Luatua, Sam Cane, TJ Perenara, Beauden Barrett, Malakai Fekitoa. – Sapa-AFP