Steve Hansen is pulling no punches in the All Blacks’ first match of the 2019 Rugby World Cup, naming a full-strength side to tackle fellow champion hopefuls the Springboks.
Altogether there are just five changes to the starting New Zealand lineup that wiped the floor with Tonga in their warm-up match just two weeks ago.
Fit-again players Sam Cane and Richie Mo’unga are reinstated to the side.
Cane comes in for Matt Todd, with the Crusaders flanker dropping out of the squad. Shannon Frizell, who was only called up to the team earlier this week, will cover the loose forwards from the bench.
Mo’unga will run out in the 10 jersey with Beauden Barrett shifting back to fullback. That means there’s no place for Ben Smith in the starting side but he’ll be given the opportunity to make an impact off the bench.
Codie Taylor, who started at hooker against Tonga, makes way for Dane Coles. The two have shared the starting berth since Coles has returned from various long term injuries.
It’s a similar situation at halfback, with Aaron Smith taking over from TJ Perenara.
Scott Barrett will make his first appearance for the team since he received a red card against the Wallabies in the second round of the Rugby Championship. His promotion sees Patrick Tuipulotu take over on the bench.
— RugbyPass (@RugbyPass) September 18, 2019
Sonny Bill Williams’ return via the reserves means that Ryan Crotty retains his spot in the midfield. Williams and Crotty have both spent much of the season on the sidelines but it looks like Crotty is now being favoured for the starting midfield role. He will partner with Anton Lienert-Brown, who appears to have forced his way into the starting side on the back of countless excellent performances for New Zealand.
“In today’s rugby environment, you need to have the mindset that it’s not just about who starts, it’s also about what the players coming off the bench can provide,” said Hansen.
“As an example, we have a great one-two punch with Dane and Codie at hooker and Aaron and TJ at halfback.”
It will be the first pool-stages match between New Zealand and South Africa at a World Cup, which Hansen and the side have been invigorated by.
“The challenge of playing one of our oldest and most respected foes in the opening Test of RWC2019 has us excited and energised by what lies ahead. Each time we play South Africa, it’s a tight battle and a real arm wrestle,” Hansen said.
“To perform at our very best, we’ll have to play with real clarity, intent, energy and clear heads. Both teams will have their moments and it’ll be our job to ensure we limit theirs and take full opportunity of ours.”
Saturday’s 6:45 PM (JST) game will almost certainly decide the winner of Pool B and decide who has an easier route to the finals.
All Blacks: Beauden Barrett, Sevu Reece, Anton Lienert-Brown, Ryan Crotty, George Bridge, Richie Mo’unga, Aaron Smith, Kieran Read (capt), Sam Cane, Ardie Savea, Scott Barrett, Sam Whitelock, Nepo Laulala, Dane Coles, Joe Moody. Res: Codie Taylor, Ofa Tu’ungafasi, Angus Ta’avao, Patrick Tuipulotu, Shannon Frizell, TJ Perenara, Sonny Bill Williams, Ben Smith.
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