All Blacks will ring the changes for final French test, double down on Highlanders, and hand starting test debuts to Shannon Frizell and Jack Goodhue, and potential test debuts to Jackson Hemopo and Richie Mo’unga.
After a muddling effort in the second test in Wellington, the All Blacks look set for a heady dose of rotation for the dead rubber at Dunedin’s Forsyth Barr Stadium this weekend with six changes expected in the starting fifteen and five more on the bench.
Of major interest will be the starting debut of Tasman and Highlanders loose forward Shannon Frizell who was the noted bolter in the squad when it was named earlier in the month. Frizell looks likely to take the number 6 jersey for the match in place of the injured Liam Squire.
It is a rapid promotion for Frizell who tells the story that when he called his family to tell them he had made the All Blacks squad, they all thought he was joking. It will be no joke this Saturday, though, when he runs out on his home Super Rugby pitch for his first Test start.
He will have plenty of firepower in front of him, with the front five expected to be unchanged from the first two Tests. That means the all-Crusader pack of Joe Moody, Codie Taylor, Owen Franks, Sam Whitelock – the captain – and Scott Barrett. Barrett has been a workhorse for the team over the first two Tests of the series while Codie Taylor did not enjoy the freedom last week that he most certainly did at Eden Park.
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Another Highlander, Luke Whitelock, will provide Frizell with some much-needed familiarity when he once again starts at number 8, while Ardie Savea gets a rare test start on the openside, in the same week his brother Julian has confirmed his departure to France. It is understood Ardie Savea is also fielding offers from French clubs, notably Pau, and may well look to take a deal at the conclusion of the next Super Rugby season.
There was plenty of debate about the best position for Damian McKenzie after last week’s first start at first five, but the All Blacks selectors have kept their faith in the diminutive Chief and he will once again line up alongside Aaron Smith in the halves. Interestingly, he will have specialist back-up on the bench with Richie Mo’unga in line to get a first Test cap. The Crusaders pivot has played just one game for the All Blacks – a 28-23 win over a French XV on last year’s November tour.
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The midfield will be an all-new combination with Ryan Crotty and Anton Lienert-Brown expected to be replaced by the returning Sonny Bill Williams and the impressive Jack Goodhue. Williams has recovered sooner than expected from keyhole surgery while Goodhue has once again been a rock for the Crusaders at both second five and centre.
Changes, too, in the back three with another Highlander, Waisake Naholo set to return to the Test match arena on the right wing allowing Ben Smith to shift back to fullback. A horses for courses combination if ever there was one, Naholo and Smith have a proven track record at Forsyth Barr and a great understanding of each other’s positional strengths. Rieko Ioane again will start on the left wing.
As for the bench, Karl Tu’inukuafe and Ofa Tu’ungafasi cover the prop forward positions, while Liam Coltman seems the preferred option as replacement hooker. His selection and that of Maori All Black Jackson Hemopo as a potential debutant brings the total number of home town heroes in the match day squad to seven.
Injuries have obviously had an impact on a number of selection decisions but with the series already won, there is a willingness here to give the wider squad some valuable minutes before the Rugby Championship begins. It will be interesting to see how the rejigged line-up fares after the team’s motivation came in for some internal questioning during the week.
The debutants will need no motivation under the roof, and nor will the Highlanders in the side. Perhaps that is just what the selectors are banking on as they look to sweep the series on Saturday.
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