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All Blacks welcome back familiar faces for Rugby Championship finale

By Tom Vinicombe

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Despite a less than exceptional showing last weekend, All Blacks coach Ian Foster has kept changes to a minimum for his side’s rematch with the Springboks on Saturday.

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With the All Blacks playing fives sides in five weeks, it was never expected that the same team would be rolled out round after round and Foster and his fellow selectors have maintained their policy of rotating out players with heavy workloads.

The two biggest talking points are the availability of Richie Mo’unga and Anton Lienert-Brown available for selection – the former after only arriving in Australia two and a half weeks ago, following the arrival of a new baby, and the latter after sitting out the past three matches through injury. Altogether, Foster has made six positional or personnel changes to the starting line-up.

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In the front row, hooker Codie Taylor will again combine with props Joe Moody and Nepo Laulala. They’ll be backed up in the reserves by Asafo Aumua, George Bower and Ofa Tuungafasi.

The pairing of Scott Barrett and Brodie Retallick has been kept on in the second row, with the experienced Patrick Tuipulotu retaining his spot on the bench.

There are significant changes in the loose forwards, with Akira Ioane the only player retained in the same position that they featured last weekend. Ardie Savea has moved down a jersey number, to take on the openside flanker role while Luke Jacobson – who was ruled out late for the first match with the Springboks – slots in at number 8. The trio was originally named to start last weekend before Jacobson was withdrawn.

Ethan Blackadder will cover all three backrow roles from the reserves.

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In the halves, Brad Weber gets a third starting opportunity for the year and will partner Beauden Barrett, with TJ Perenara and Mo’unga providing cover from the pine.

David Havili and the returning Lienert-Brown will form a skillful combination in the midfield while Lienert-Brown’s return sees Rieko Ioane switching to the left wing this weekend. Sevu Reece – who Foster admitted was unlucky to miss out last week – comes into the starting lineup on the right for Will Jordan and Jordie Barrett holds his spot at the back following his match-winning penalty kick against the Springboks in their first clash.

Damian McKenzie rounds out the reserves in the No 23 jersey.

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“The energy levels are high in the team, it’s our fifth test in a row, and we’re highly motivated ahead of another big test against South Africa and the last test of the Championship,” said Foster.

“We’ve achieved the Championship title, which we’re really proud to have achieved. The fact that we now have the chance to achieve a potential Grand Slam against our Southern Hemisphere opponents is pretty special. I’m excited by that and it has already given this weekend’s test an edge.”

Foster said the All Blacks were looking for improvement in their game across the board this week.

“We learnt some lessons last week. We didn’t look after the ball as well as we could have and some of our work at the ruck wasn’t as good as we wanted. We have to lift our performance in that area and the team is keen to get that right this weekend.”

Saturday’s match kicks off at 8:05pm AEST from the Gold Coast.

All Blacks: Jordie Barrett, Sevu Reece, Anton Lienert-Brown, David Havili, Rieko Ioane, Beauden Barrett, Brad Weber, Luke Jacobson, Ardie Savea, Akira Ioane, Scott Barrett, Brodie Retallick, Nepo Laulala, Codie Taylor, Joe Moody. Reserves: Asafo Aumua, George Bower, Ofa Tuungafasi, Patrick Tuipulotu, Ethan Blackadder, TJ Perenara, Richie Mo’unga, Damian McKenzie.

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All Blacks welcome back familiar faces for Rugby Championship finale

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