Leicester Fainga’anuku has been named to make his Test debut as part of a COVID-hit All Blacks team against Ireland.
Fainga’anuku was one of the standout players for the Crusaders team who won the inaugural Super Rugby Pacific title this season and will start on the left wing while his Crusaders teammate Sevu Reece will start on the right at Eden Park.
Reece takes over that position from Will Jordan who is one of three All Blacks backs who currently are out of action with COVID-19. Fainga’anuku has been preferred ahead of Blues winger Caleb Clarke who recently has been sidelined with a hamstring injury.
Head coach Ian Foster, who also is isolating after contracting COVID, has named Rieko Ioane and Quinn Tupaea in midfield, favouring that combination after centres David Havili and Jack Goodhue both tested positive.
Foster said when naming his team on Thursday that it would be “doubly exciting” to play in front of a sellout crowd in Auckland.
“After what seems like a long time away from home it couldn’t be scripted better to be back in front of our fans for this match,” he said.
“While this week hasn’t exactly gone to plan for us, our overall preparation has gone really well.
“We’ve prepared rigorously for this match, albeit only having a 10-day period together. We have huge respect for this Irish team and can’t wait to run out onto a packed Eden Park on Saturday.”
Beauden Barrett has been named ahead of the Blues’ Richie Mo’unga at five-eighth.
Scott Barrett will start on the blindside flank as the Kiwis anticipate a physical contest with Ireland’s large forward pack, while veterans Sam Whitelock and Brodie Retallick start in the second row.
Sam Cane will captain the All Blacks from the openside flank and Ardie Savea has been named at No.8.
Robbie Henshaw and Garry Ringrose will form in an experienced midfield partnership for Ireland while another New Zealand-born player, James Lowe, will start his 13th Test on the left wing.
Prop Andrew Porter returns to the starting side after missing the last two matches in the Six Nations championship with injury.
Ireland beat New Zealand 29-20 when the teams last met in Dublin in November.
NEW ZEALAND: Jordie Barrett, Sevu Reece, Rieko Ioane, Quinn Tupaea, Leicester Fainga’anuku, Beauden Barrett, Aaron Smith, Ardie Savea, Sam Cane (capt), Scott Barrett, Sam Whitelock, Brodie Retallick, Ofa Tuungafasi, Codie Taylor, George Bower. Reserves: Samisoni Taukei’aho, Karl Tu’inukuafe, Angus Ta’avao, Pita Gus Sowakula, Dalton Papalii, Finlay Christie, Richie Mo’unga, Braydon Ennor
IRELAND: Hugo Keenan, Keith Earls, Garry Ringrose, Robbie Henshaw, James Lowe, Johnny Sexton (capt), Jamison Gibson Park, Caelan Doris, Josh van der Flier, Peter O’Mahoney, James Ryan, Tadhg Beirne, Tadgh Furlong, Dan Sheehan, Andrew Porter. Reserves: Dave Heffernan, Finlay Bealham, Cian Healy, Kieran Treadwell, Jack Conan, Conor Murray, Joey Carbery, Bundee Aki.