McKenzie a surprise pick at 10 for ABs in Argentina

Damian McKenzie hasn't played for the All Blacks since 2021. Photo: Getty Images
Damian McKenzie hasn't played for the All Blacks since 2021. Photo: Getty Images
The All Blacks have sprung a surprise for their first test of the year against Argentina, with Damian McKenzie set to start at No 10.

McKenzie, who has been mostly used in a fullback or utility role for the All Blacks but started the majority of games at first-five for the Chiefs this season, gets the first crack to impress in the No 10 jersey, with Richie Mo’unga named on the bench and Beauden Barrett at fullback.

It will be McKenzie’s third test wearing No 10, having previously taken the reins against France in 2018 and Argentina in 2021, with the playmaker having not pulled on the black jersey since 2021 but returning to the side for the Rugby Championship clash in Mendoza.

There is a debut for Emoni Narawa on the wing, while Josh Lord, who also hasn’t played for the All Blacks since 2021, will play his third test, named alongside Scott Barrett in the starting lineup. Tupou Vaa’i is on the bench and Brodie Retallick and Sam Whitelock haven’t been selected.

Also not named in the 23 is last year’s first-choice hooker Samisoni Taukei’aho, with some selections – including Mo’unga not starting - indicating the All Blacks are keeping some powder dry for the clash against the Springboks next week at Mt Smart, especially in the case of some Chiefs and Crusaders players who only recently finished their Super Rugby seasons.

"We have taken the need to build combinations in a vital year and balanced it with the need to manage the squad after Super Rugby," said All Blacks coach Ian Foster. "This is obviously a massive year and we are really confident in the way that we’ve been building. We have had a short build-up but an effective one."

Narawa will become the 1208th All Black, earning the nod after a strong Super Rugby season coupled with absences to Crusaders duo Will Jordan and Leicester Fainga’anuku, with Caleb Clarke starting on the other flank.

Beauden Barrett, one of three Barretts in the starting XV, will play his 113th test and is set to surpass Dan Carter as the second most-capped All Blacks back in history, behind Aaron Smith (114) who takes his place in the No 9 jersey.

Saturday will mark the first All Blacks test in Mendoza, with all 42,500 tickets sold two months prior to kick-off. The city at the foot of the Andes has hosted the All Blacks for two mid-week tour games in 1976 and 1991.

"We have loved our time here in Mendoza for what will be a tremendous challenge," added Foster. "We’ve enjoyed seeing how excited everyone is for this weekend’s game and can’t wait to get stuck into our work."

All Blacks team to play Argentina: Beauden Barrett, Emoni Narawa, Rieko Ioane, Jordie Barrett, Caleb Clarke, Damian McKenzie, Aaron Smith, Ardie Savea, Sam Cane (c), Shannon Frizell, Josh Lord, Scott Barrett, Tyrel Lomax, Dane Coles, Ethan de Groot.

Reserves: Codie Taylor, Ofa Tu’ungafasi, Nepo Laulala, Tupou Vaa’i, Dalton Papali’i, Finlay Christie, Richie Mo’unga, Braydon Ennor.