ROME – The New Zealand All Blacks will persist with a two-pronged attack against Italy on Saturday, despite coach Steve Hansen ringing the changes after last week's loss to Ireland.
Hansen retained fly-half Beauden Barrett and fullback Damian McKenzie in a starting line-up featuring 11 changes from the side that ran out in Dublin, resisting calls to start the in-form Richie Mo'unga.
Instead Mo'unga stays on the bench as Hansen sticks with his strategy of using Barrett and McKenzie as dual playmakers.
The combination has failed to fire so far, with the world champions scraping to a 16-15 win over England then losing 16-9 to Ireland last week.
Hansen was confident Barrett and McKenzie, with Mo'unga as backup, would improve before next year's World Cup in Japan.
“That's the three guys that we see at the moment that would most likely go to the World Cup, so getting them combining, either at the beginning of the game or during the course of the game, is important,” he said.
“We haven't got too many games left so the more we play them together, the better it will be.”
Captain Kieran Read and flanker Ardie Savea were the only other starters retained after the Ireland loss as Hansen opted to give some of his big names a break in the final match of the season against Italy.
Notable selections include Jordie Barrett on the right wing and Dane Coles returning as hooker in a new-look front row also featuring Nepo Laulala and Ofa Tuungafasi.
Hansen expected a strong defensive performance from Italy, saying the All Blacks could not allow them to dictate terms.
“Our goal will be to create quality set-piece ball and lightning quick ruck ball, coupled with a real accuracy in our decision-making so we can use our skillsets accordingly,” he said.
The New Zealand team is (15-1):
Damian McKenzie; Jordie Barrett, Anton Lienert-Brown, Ngani Laumape, Waisake Naholo; Beauden Barrett, TJ Perenara; Kieran Read (capt), Ardie Savea, Vaea Fifita; Scott Barrett, Patrick Tuipulotu; Nepo Laulala, Dane Coles, Ofa Tuungafasi
Nathan Harris, Karl Tu'inukuafe, Angus Ta'avao, Brodie Retallick, Dalton Papalii, Te Toiroa Tahuriorangi, Richie Mo'unga, Rieko Ioane
Agence France-Presse (AFP)