NEW PLYMOUTH – The All Blacks have made wholesale changes for their Rugby Championship Test against Argentina in New Plymouth on Saturday, including a recall for Nehe Milner-Skudder.
Coach Steve Hansen billed the promotion of seven players, when he named his side Thursday, as a chance for them to take “opportunities” after his front-line unit struggled to beat Australia in their last outing.
It will be the flying wing Milner-Skudder’s first Test since the 2015 World Cup final.
He has been dogged by injury since then, but now gets the chance to cement his place on the wing, with Ben Smith taking a break from rugby for the rest of the year and Julian Savea failing to make the squad.
It is one of four backline changes, with Israel Dagg replacing Rieko Ioane on the right wing, Anton Lienert-Brown taking the No 13 jersey from Ryan Crotty and TJ Perenara starting at scrumhalf, with Aaron Smith not even making the bench.
In the forwards, blindside flank Vaea Fifita gets his first start in his second Test, lock Luke Romano makes his first start of the year, while Ardie Savea starts at openside flank with Sam Cane dropping to the bench.
While the All Blacks have won their opening two matches against Australia, Argentina have lost twice to South Africa.
Hansen said while Argentina would be “desperate” to get their first championship points of the season, it was a chance for lesser known All Blacks to stand up.
“This Test match is all about us taking opportunities. It’s an opportunity for our players to grow individually and collectively as a team,” he said.
“We’ve taken some key learnings from our first two Tests against Australia, and now it’s an opportunity to take those learnings into a Test match against an old foe who we know pretty well now.
“Argentina are a dynamic, physical team who are growing their style of game. They are a proud people as well, so they’ll be desperate. We’ll have to be ready for that challenge.”
This will be the fourth Test the All Blacks have played at New Plymouth’s Yarrow Stadium, where they have never been beaten.
They last played there in June 2013, defeating France 24-9.
The All Blacks have played Argentina 24 times, winning 23 and drawing one.
All Black Team
15 Damian McKenzie, 14 Israel Dagg, 13 Anton Lienert-Brown, 12 Sonny Bill Williams, 11 Nehe Milner-Skudder, 10 Beauden Barrett, 9 TJ Perenara, 8 Kieran Read (captain), 7 Ardie Savea, 6 Vaea Fifita, 5 Brodie Retallick, 4 Luke Romano, 3 Nepo Laulala, 2 Dane Coles, 1 Joe Moody.
Bench: 16 Codie Taylor, 17 Wyatt Crockett, 18 Ofa Tu’ungafasi, 19 Scott Barrett, 20 Sam Cane, 21 Tawera Kerr-Barlow, 22 Lima Sopoaga, 23 Ngani Laumape.