Blockbusting winger Caleb Clarke will play his first Test in two years but besieged All Blacks coach Ian Foster has resisted any urge to make wholesale changes to his starting side for their Rugby Championship opener in South Africa.
Foster is under pressure after the All Blacks lost four of their last five Tests, including a historic 2-1 home series defeat by Ireland last month that has left them facing something of a crisis a year out from the Rugby World Cup in France.
They now face back-to-back away Rugby Championship clashes against the world champion Springboks, starting in Nelspruit on Saturday, and although a few players have paid the price for the team’s below-par form, the core of the side that lost to the Irish remains in place.
Big hooker Samisoni Taukei’aho is back in the starting side after being a surprise omission for the series decider against Ireland.
Clarke, 23, earns his first cap since 2020 as he takes the place of Sevu Reece on the left wing, with Will Jordan on the opposite side and Jordie Barrett at fullback.
David Havili and Rieko Ioane remain the centre-pairing, while scrumhalf Aaron Smith and flyhalf Beauden Barrett maintain their partnership.
Under pressure captain Sam Cane stays at openside flanker along with Akira Ioane on the blidside, while Ardie Savea packs down at number eight.
Scott Barrett partners Sam Whitelock at lock in place of the injured Brodie Retallick.
Prop Angus Ta’avao returns from suspension, with George Bower on the other side of the scrum.
Foster did shake up his reserve bench with six changes, though. Forwards Ethan de Groot, Tyrel Lomax, Tupou Vaa’i and Shannon Frizell, scrumhalf Finlay Christie and centre Quinn Tupaea were all brought in. Hooker Dane Coles and flyhalf Richie Mo’unga were the only two to keep their places among the reserves from the third Ireland test.
“This year’s draw means we have a massive challenge of two games here in the South Africa,” Foster said. “We have settled in well in Mbombela and are preparing for what is always an intense game against our old foe.”
New Zealand have not played a Test in South Africa since 2018 and lost their last encounter 31-29 in the neutral Gold Coast in October last year.
Team: 15-Jordie Barrett, 14-Will Jordan, 13-Rieko Ioane, 12-David Havili, 11-Caleb Clarke, 10-Beauden Barrett, 9-Aaron Smith, 8-Ardie Savea, 7-Sam Cane (captain), 6-Akira Ioane, 5-Scott Barrett, 4-Sam Whitelock, 3-Angus Ta’avao, 2-Samisoni Taukei’aho, 1-George Bower. Res: 16 Dane Coles, 17-Ethan de Groot, 18-Tyrel Lomax, 19-Tupou Vaa’i, 20-Shannon Frizell, 21-Finlay Christie, 22-Richie Mo’unga, 23-Quinn Tupaea.