Big guns back for All Blacks

Sam Whitelock returns in one of five changes to the All Blacks' starting line-up. Photo Getty
Sam Whitelock returns in one of five changes to the All Blacks' starting line-up. Photo Getty
Five starting changes but this is undoubtedly the best team the All Blacks could present the Springboks.

With the exception of Brodie Retallick, at home after his tragic family loss, all the big guns are back in Cape Town. No mercy given, then.

In comes Nehe Milner-Skudder for Waisake Naholo on the right wing; Ryan Crotty resumes at centre for Anton Lienert-Brown; Sam Cane pushes openside Matt Todd to the bench; Sam Whitelock replaces Crusaders team-mate Luke Romano; and Liam Squire again keeps Jerome Kaino out of the picture.

Steve Hansen has, for now, resisted the urge to give Lima Sopoaga a crack from the get go. The Highlanders first five-eighth would have started in Buenos Aires last week, but opted to remain home for the birth of his first child, and will now have to wait a little longer for the No 10 jersey.

"Once we didn't do that we thought we could either start him this week and put Beauden on the bench but then you think you've got the world's best five-eighth on the bench you might as well play him and see what happens and use Lima off the bench," Hansen said.

The plight of an All Blacks blindside is such that if you don't make the starting team, commanding a spot on the bench is difficult. Openside, a high attrition position, dictates cover is needed. So, too, a third lock.

Kaino started in the unfamiliar locking role in the loss against Ireland in Chicago last year. The All Blacks learned then it is better to have specialist second-row cover, particularly against a confrontational team such as the Boks. And so Patrick Tuipulotu has been preferred for that role, with Scott Barrett proving in the 57-0 victory over the Boks in Albany he is comfortable at No 6 if required.

Squire is now the incumbent blindside, and Vaea Fifita, while not nearly as impressive last week, continues to knock on the door.

Kaino's absence again this week means he has now sat out the past six tests but Hansen hinted his chance will come in either the final Bledisloe Cup test in Brisbane, or the end of year tour.

"He'll get an opportunity he just has to wait," Hansen said. "Liam Squire has played outstanding. We left him at home to give him a rest and freshen him up for this game so it would be pointless just to chuck JK in. There's a test match in a couple of weeks and quite a few game in the northern tour so JK will get opportunities in those games at some point."

Interestingly, the All Blacks have left Lienert-Brown out altogether which means either left wing Rieko Ioane or fullback David Havili will cover the midfield. Havili made quite the impression on debut in his 10 minute stint against the Pumas last week, scoring the final try and making one telling break. He now gets a chance to back that up.

Other notable tweaks see halfback TJ Perenara drop off the bench, with Tawera Kerr-Barlow in line for just his second test of the year.

The same front-row that set the tone so emphatically last week will also be keen to continue their progress and make another step up.

After two long haul trips the All Blacks have undergone their typically light training week in South Africa, with most of the work done off the field in clarity meetings.

"We're playing a team that will be hurting incredibly after Albany I'd suggest. We need to make sure we meet that and continue growing and developing ourselves. To do that you've got to pick a good team. Whilst we've left some people out and we could have given some a rest there's a bigger picture and we know where we are going with the rest."

All Blacks team:

Damian McKenzie, Nehe Milner-Skudder, Ryan Crotty, Sonny Bill Williams, Rieko Ioane, Beauden Barrett, Aaron Smith, Kieran Read (c), Sam Cane, Liam Squire, Scott Barrett, Sam Whitelock, Nepo Laulala, Dane Coles, Kane Hames. Reserves: Codie Taylor, Wyatt Crockett, Ofa Tu'ungafasi, Patrick Tuipulotu, Matt Todd, Tawera Kerr-Barlow, Lima Sopoaga, David Havili

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