NELSON – Richie Mo’unga will make his first Test start and Te Toiroa Tahuriorangi is set to make his debut off the bench, with the All Blacks making wholesale changes for Saturday’s clash with Argentina in Nelson.
More than half the starting line-up has been changed, including Ben Smith returning to fullback to make way for Nehe Milner-Skudder on his return to Test rugby a year after being injured against the Springboks in Cape Town.
New Zealand coach Steve Hansen denied the changes were a reflection on Argentina, but were a “desire by us to grow the experience and depth” of the squad.
“Secondary to that, we also know that if we don’t use the whole squad across a long season, we’ll run out of steam later in the year.”
Mo’unga, a confident flyhalf who has been compared to a young Dan Carter, was the standout pivot in Super Rugby this season, guiding the Crusaders to their eighth title.
But in a country that enjoys a wealth of depth in the No 10 jersey, his path to the starting XV has been blocked by world player of the year Beauden Barrett and Damian McKenzie.
Barrett, who produced a standout four-try performance against Australia two weeks ago, has been rested this week, while the elusive McKenzie retains his role as a specialist sub.
Scrumhalf Aaron Smith has also been given the week off, with TJ Perenara promoted to the run-on side.
Tahuriorangi is on the bench for the first Test to be played in Nelson, which is the birthplace of rugby in New Zealand.
After five Tests off the bench, Karl Tu’inukuafe gets his first start at loosehead prop for the injured Joe Moody, and Tim Perry comes into the prop reserves.
In the second row, Scott Barrett will partner Brodie Retallick, with Sam Whitelock in the reserves.
Shannon Frizell will make his second Test start at blindside flank, with Ardie Savea at seven and Luke Whitelock on the bench with his brother.
📽️ "The ojective of the week is to have a great performance on Saturday"
Check out what #AllBlacks Assistant Coach, Ian Foster has to say ahead of this weekends clash with Argentina. 🇳🇿🇦🇷#TeamAllBlacks #NZLvARG pic.twitter.com/d7daVoXiZZ
New Zealand are unbeaten after two rounds of the Rugby Championship, while Argentina and South Africa have a win each and Australia have lost both their matches.
“In making these changes, it also needs to be said that the high expectation we place on ourselves remains the same, regardless of who we’ve selected. The All Blacks jersey demands this,” he said.
“We’re very aware of the Argentinian challenge. We know that they’re hungry for Test success against the All Blacks.
“And after their recent win over South Africa, they’ll be coming here confident that they can achieve their desired goal.”
New Zealand and Argentina have played each other 26 times, with the All Blacks winning 25 times and one match drawn 21-21 in Buenos Aires in 1985.
All Black Team
15 Ben Smith 14 Nehe Milner-Skudder 13 Jack Goodhue 12 Ngani Laumape 11 Waisake Naholo 10 Richie Mo’unga 9 TJ Perenara 8 Kieran Read (captain) 7 Ardie Savea 6 Shannon Frizell 5 Scott Barrett 4 Brodie Retallick 3 Owen Franks 2 Codie Taylor 1 Karl Tu’inukuafe.
Bench: 16 Nathan Harris 17 Tim Perry 18 Ofa Tu’ungafasi 19 Sam Whitelock 20 Luke Whitelock 21 Te Toiroa Tahuriorangi 22 Damian McKenzie 23 Anton Lienert-Brown.