The world champion All Blacks have made just one injury-enforced change to the matchday squad to face Ireland in Saturday’s one-off Test showdown in Dublin.
Centre Ryan Crotty starts in place of Sonny Bill Williams, who injured his shoulder in last week’s dramatic 16-15 win over England, opening a space for Anton Lienert-Brown on the bench.
Coach Steve Hansen reinforced his comments earlier this week that the clash between his top-ranked team and number two Ireland would determine bragging rights for who was the world’s best team.
“These are the types of Test matches that gets everyone up,” he said.
“It’s number one versus number two, and there’s a real excitement that’s building as we get closer to Saturday.”
Hansen has persisted with his preference to field two playmakers against top sides, with Beauden Barrett at fly-half and Damian McKenzie at fullback.
He conceded that the squad — possibly barring the injury-enforced absences of players such as Williams and prop Joe Moody — was similar to the line-up he would be looking at as the All Blacks chase a third straight World Cup in Japan next year.
“The whole year we’ve been looking at combinations to make sure next year is really clear in our own minds,” he said.
“When you’ve got so much talent you’ve got to make sure you’ve got the right bit of it sorted for when we go to the World Cup.”
Aaron Smith will play his 82nd Test to become the most capped All Blacks halfback in history, overtaking Justin Marshall.
Brodie Retallick and Samuel Whitelock will set a new record for an All Blacks’ lock partnership, starting in their 50th Test together.
Damian McKenzie; Ben Smith, Jack Goodhue, Ryan Crotty, Rieko Ioane; Beauden Barrett, Aaron Smith; Kieran Read (capt), Ardie Savea, Liam Squire; Brodie Retallick, Sam Whitelock; Owen Franks, Codie Taylor, Karl Tu’inukuafe
Reserves: Dane Coles, Ofa Tuungafasi, Nepo Laulala, Scott Barrett, Matt Todd, TJ Perenara, Richie Mo’unga, Anton Lienert-Brown
© Agence France-Presse (Additional edits from Richard Barrett)