Auckland – Coach Steve Hansen has entrusted a pair of unproven internationals with fronting up in New Zealand’s biggest challenge since winning the 2011 World Cup.
Eight-Test hooker Dane Coles and nine-cap flanker Sam Cane will start against the Springboks at Eden Park on Saturday.
In three other changes to the side that bumbled to a 28-13 win against Argentina last week, Ma’a Nonu replaces inside centre Francis Saili, Liam Messam comes in at No6 for Steven Luatua, and Owen Franks takes over from scrum anchor Charlie Faumuina.
“Coles is somebody we see as the future (hooker) and we think now is the time to give him an opportunity to go against the best,” the All Blacks coach said this morning. “If he hadn’t injured his calf earlier in the year, he probably would have played more Tests. The time is right to give him a go in the big ballpark and see how he goes.”
Hansen feels the same way about Cane: “He’s ready. He’s been around the environment for quite some time. He’s a good athlete, mentally he’s able to put things into perspective.”
Coles, 26, has been preferred to Test veteran Andrew Hore, who turns 36 tomorrow.
Six of Coles’ eight international appearances were made off the bench as the Hurricanes hooker started the first and second matches of a three-Test series against France in June.
A calf strain ruled him out of the final clash with Les Bleus, and when the All Blacks kicked off their Rugby Championship campaign against the Wallabies in Sydney last month, the 26-year-old turned out for Wellington in the New Zealand domestic competition.
Cane, 21, played an impact role off the bench as the Chiefs successfully defended their Super Rugby title earlier this year. He has benefited from 119-Test flanker-supremo Richie McCaw’s injury withdrawal.
“It’s not an easy job following in after McCaw, because you’re compared to him all the time,” added Hansen. “But Sam’s just got to go in and be his own man and do what he does well.”
The Chiefs breakaway is held in high regard by Hansen, though it remains to be seen whether he is tough enough to withstand the relentless battering that a fetcher takes at the point of contact in the Test arena.
Nonu has been wheeled out to add firepower and 81 caps of experience to the backline, as well as a safety valve for flyhalf Dan Carter, who will be pressured by the Bok loose trio. Hansen opted for Messam to start, with Luatua on the bench, based on the Chiefs captain’s recent recovery from a hamstring injury.
Owen Franks will earn his 50th cap and Hansen is banking on arguably the world’s best tighthead prop to take Coles under his wing in a crucial set-piece battle.
The All Blacks have dominated the Springboks at Eden Park for 76 years and if Hansen’s gamble doesn’t work, Coles and Cane will be remembered for their part in surrendering that record.
Boks:15 Zane Kirchner, 14 Willie le Roux, 13 JJ Engelbrecht, 12 Jean de Villiers (captain), 11 Bryan Habana, 10 Morne Steyn, 9 Ruan Pienaar, 8 Duane Vermeulen, 7 Willem Alberts, 6 Francois Louw, 5 Flip van der Merwe, 4 Eben Etzebeth, 3 Jannie du Plessis, 2 Bismarck du Plessis, 1 Beast Mtawarira. Replacements:16 Adriaan Strauss, 17 Gurthro Steenkamp, 18 Coenie Oosthuizen, 19 Juandre Kruger, 20 Siya Kolisi, 21 Jano Vermaak , 22 Pat Lambie, 23 Jan Serfontein
New Zealand:15-Israel Dagg, 14-Ben Smith, 13-Conrad Smith, 12-Ma'a Nonu, 11-Julian Savea, 10-Daniel Carter, 9-Aaron Smith, 8-Kieran Read (captain), 7-Sam Cane, 6-Liam Messam, 5-Sam Whitelock, 4-Brodie Retallick, 3-Owen Franks, 2-Dane Coles, 1-Tony Woodcock. Replacements:16-Keven Mealamu, 17-Wyatt Crockett, 18-Charlie Faumuina, 19-Steven Luatua, 20-Matt Todd, 21-Tawera Kerr-Barlow, 22-Beauden Barrett, 23-Charles Piutau
Referee: Romain Poite