No Dagg, Fifita in All Blacks team

Vaea Fifita was a stand out for the All Blacks against Argentina. Photo: Getty Images
Vaea Fifita was a stand out for the All Blacks against Argentina. Photo: Getty Images
No Israel Dagg and no room for Vaea Fifita, but otherwise the All Blacks will roll out their strongest side for the Springboks in Albany.

Seven starting changes - and one positional switch - for a second successive week suggests rotation is in vogue. This week at least. Steve Hansen has returned to his incumbents at both ends of the experience spectrum in a sure sign of just how much respect the All Blacks have for the Boks.

Fifita's absence will raise eyebrows. The humble Hurricanes flanker shot to instant fame after his spectacular runaway try last week against the Pumas. In his maiden test start, other than some extra work in the tight he could hardly have done much more.

Even then, Liam Squire was always favoured to return at blindside. Now he will be keen to re-stamp his mark.

The balance of the bench combined with shoulder bruising which prevented Fifita from training early in the week means he must wait to showcase his athletic talents again. Ardie Savea will provide loose forward cover with Sam Cane returning at openside.

Dagg will be immensely disappointed, too. He has managed only one test, last week against the Pumas, since the British and Irish Lions series as his troublesome knee continues to cause him problems. While he failed a concussion test against the Pumas, he presented no symptoms since. It is his knee holding him back.

Nehe Milner-Skudder is the beneficiary of Dagg's on-going frustrations, moving to his more accustomed right wing. After his first test for two years last week, no doubt Milner-Skudder has empathy for Dagg's plight.

He will link with Rieko Ioane, recalled on the left edge, in a rejigged back three. Damian McKenzie retains his spot at fullback, despite some shaky efforts under the high ball in New Plymouth.

The All Blacks' preferred combination of Sonny Bill Williams and Ryan Crotty reunite in the midfield as expected, and Aaron Smith returns at halfback to push TJ Perenara to the bench.

Up-front, Luke Romano drops out of the squad with Sam Whitelock back after a week off and Scott Barrett retaining his spot in the reserves.

Kane Hames' promotion from out of the squad to starting loosehead over Wyatt Crockett following Joe Moody's season-ending dislocated shoulder may catch some by surprise. But it speaks to the regard the All Blacks hold Hames' destructive scrummaging abilities. His first start in his third test may be a sign of things to come this season.

"Our big focus this week has been about continual improvement, growing ourselves as a team, growing our game and how we want to play it, and how we want to play against different opposition," All Blacks coach Steve Hansen said.

"Sunday to Friday gives us the opportunity to look at ourselves individually and collectively and get better as a team. We need the games we are getting at the moment, we've had a bit of adversity, and that will only make us better."

The Boks come off a draw with the Wallabies in Perth but won their previous five tests against Argentina and France, setting up an anticipated contest.

"They scrummage well, they attack well with the ball and their defence is getting better. So that's basically the game. We know they're a tough opponent - they're always a tough opponent. There's a long-standing history and rivalry between our two teams. We enjoy playing them, they play hard and it's always competitive. But afterwards they're always keen to catch up for a chat and a beer."

All Blacks team to play South Africa at QBE Stadium on Saturday:

Kane Hames, Dane Coles, Nepo Laulala, Brodie Retallick, Samuel Whitelock, Liam Squire, Sam Cane, Kieran Read (c), Aaron Smith, Beauden Barrett, Rieko Ioane, Sonny Bill Williams, Ryan Crotty, Nehe Milner-Skudder, Damian McKenzie

Reserves: Codie Taylor, Wyatt Crockett, Ofa Tu'ungafasi, Scott Barrett, Ardie Savea, TJ Perenara, Lima Sopoaga, Anton Lienert-Brown

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