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This match – a rare afternoon test in New Zealand – is the final pre-World Cup fixture for both sides before their campaigns in Japan kick-off in a fortnight’s time.
Plenty of changes have been made by All Blacks head coach Steve Hansen following their 36-0 thrashing of the Wallabies at Eden Park in Auckland three weeks ago.
There’s a new-look midfield as well, with Ryan Crotty set to make his first international appearance of the year from second-five.
Perhaps the most interesting change to the stating lineup, however, is the selection of Beauden Barrett at first-five.
The two-time World Rugby Player of the Year has been picked at fullback for New Zealand’s last three tests, but a shoulder injury to Richie Mo’unga sees the 28-year-old move back to his preferred position, with veteran Ben Smith reclaiming his place at No. 15.
That opens up the possibility of a test debut for rookie playmaker Josh Ioane from off the bench, despite the fact he was excluded from the All Blacks’ 31-man World Cup squad.
He is one of five changes on the bench, with one of the more significant inclusions on the pine being that of Scott Barrett, who returns from suspension following his red card during the All Blacks’ 47-26 defeat to Australia in Perth last month.
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As for the underdogs Tonga, the return of experienced first-five Kurt Morath headlines the five changes to their starting side following their 29-19 Pasifika Challenge II loss to Fiji at Eden Park last week.
With a further four switches on the bench in the form of Sione Anga’aelangi, Dan Faleafa, James Faiva and Atieli Pakalani, the ‘Ikale Tahi will be hopeful of putting in a strong performance against the hosts, especially after Kefu spoke of his side’s lofty expectations at the World Cup, where he hopes to finish with a quarter-final spot.
The Pacific Island side have never reached the play-offs of a World Cup in their history, nor have they ever come within 31 points of the All Blacks, but that won’t deter the world’s 15th-ranked side from putting in a strong showing in Hamilton.
All Blacks: Ben Smith, Sevu Reece, Anton Lienert-Brown, Ryan Crotty, George Bridge, Beauden Barrett, TJ Perenara, Kieran Read (c), Matt Todd, Ardie Savea, Sam Whitelock, Patrick Tuipulotu, Nepo Laulala, Codie Taylor, Joe Moody. Reserves: Liam Coltman, Ofa Tuungafasi, Angus Ta’avao, Scott Barrett, Luke Jacobson, Aaron Smith, Josh Ioane, Jordie Barrett.
Tonga: David Halaifonua, Cooper Vuna, Malietoa Hingano, Siale Piutau (c), Viliami Lolohea, Kurt Morath, Sonatane Takulua, Maama Vaipulu, Fotu Lokotui, Sione Kalamafoni, Leva Fifita, Sam Lousi, Siua Halanukonuka, Siua Maile, Siegfried Fisiihoi. Reserves: Sione Anga’aelangi, Vunipola Fifita, Ma’afu Fia, Dan Faleafa, Zane Kapeli, Leon Fukofuka, James Faiva, Atieli Pakalani.
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