New Zealand head coach Steve Hansen has broken from tradition and made an unexpected change to the All Blacks lineup for their semi-final clash with England.
The sole change to the starting XV sees Scott Barrett take over at blindside flanker with Ardie Savea shifting into the openside role. Sam Cane, who was pulled after 40 minutes against Ireland last weekend, will make his presence felt from the bench this week.
Barrett has never started a match in the 6 jersey for New Zealand but has played in the blindside role in the latter stages of many matches. He also started on the flank for the Crusaders at various times throughout the Super Rugby season.
It’s a somewhat left-field decision from Hansen – not just the fact that Barrett will be starting in a new position, but also that the All Blacks have made any changes at all to their lineup.
At the 2015 World Cup, Hansen made just one change to the All Blacks’ match-day squad throughout the knockout stages of the competition – and that was forced due to an injury to Wyatt Crockett.
Hansen’s side may cede some pace in the loosies with Cane’s demotion to the bench, but Barrett will add an extra lineout option for the All Blacks. He’s been one of the Men in Black’s best performers at the World Cup to date and his extra size will no doubt come in use against a hungry English pack.
“There’s no doubt that this is a huge game and there’s a lot of excitement around it,” said Hansen of his squad. “We know what we have to do and we’ve had a great week’s preparation. The team is exactly where we want to be, mentally and physically, ahead of the weekend.”
“We’re really looking forward to this opportunity. It’s all about this game and the moments it will bring. In these moments, the word pressure is bandied around quite readily. However, that pressure is always there whenever you play quality opposition, regardless of who you are. It’s about how you handle that in the moment and not getting distracted by the past or the future.”
Hansen added: “Both teams have a common goal, which is to make the final. However, we’ve arrived at this point with vastly different experiences from previous Rugby World Cups. No doubt, those experiences will resurface throughout the week and even in the game itself.
“Let’s hope the game lives up to the expectation that both teams will have, and is one for the ages.”
Did the All Blacks set Ireland up to fail with a con-job in Dublin last year? @bensmithrugby looks at how Hansen's side demolished the Irish in the World Cup quarter-final. #NZLvIRE #RWC2019 https://t.co/cc42CDGMp5
— RugbyPass (@RugbyPass) October 23, 2019
The match will also mark Codie Taylor’s 50th Test cap for New Zealand.
“On behalf of the players and management, we congratulate Codie on reaching this special milestone. You couldn’t ask for a better occasion to mark this,” Hansen said.
“We’re really looking forward to the great atmosphere that a Rugby World Cup semi-final brings and we know that there are many Kiwi fans who have travelled from home to support us. There are also many Japanese fans who will be at Yokohama cheering us on. We hope that we can put in a performance that will make them proud.”
The semi-final battle between New Zealand and England will kick off at 5PM JST on Saturday afternoon at Yokohama.
New Zealand: Beauden Barrett, Sevu Reece, Jack Goodhue, Anton Lienert-Brown, George Bridge, Richie Mo’unga, Aaron Smith, Kieran Read (c), Ardie Savea, Scott Barrett, Sam Whitelock, Brodie Retallick, Nepo Laulala, Codie Taylor, Joe Moody. Reserves: Dane Coles, Ofa Tu’ungafasi, Atu Moli, Patrick Tuipulotu, Sam Cane, TJ Perenara, Sonny Bill Williams, Jordie Barrett.
There’s plenty of attractions for tourists to sink their teeth into in Japan – including Tokyo’s famous maid cafes:
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