All Blacks coach Steve Hansen’s squad for the third Test against Wales is a curious mix of experimentation and conservatism.
There are areas of comfort and continuity for the All Blacks in the pack, half-back and the confidence in Beauden Barrett to, perhaps, finally take permanent hold of the starting fly-half position.The biggest surprise is in midfield, where the bruising George Moala earns his second cap after initially only being called into the squad as cover for the injured Charlie Ngatai.
This news will be a blow to Seta Tamanivalu and Malakai Fekitoa, who both had strong moments in the first two Tests, without showing the poise and influence that Hansen is seeking in midfield. It appears that this year’s midfield may be a stopgap until Hansen’s potentially devastating combination of Sonny Bill Williams and Rieko Ioane return after fulfilling their sevens duties at the Rio Olympics.
Elliot Dixon has replaced Jerome Kaino at blindside flanker to make his debut in his home ground. Two other inexperienced Highlanders Lima Sopoaga (one Test) and Liam Squire (debut) will watch on from the bench. Julian Savea will be desperate to impress, replacing Waisake Naholo. The omission of his brother Ardie from the match day 23 is puzzling, especially after impressing in his brief spells off the pine in the first two Tests.
Tawera Kerr Barlow returns from injury to the bench for his first test match since the World Cup Final, while Owen Franks is replaced by his bearded buddy Charlie Faumuina in the front row. In all, there are twelve changes to the squad from the second test.
The side has a slightly uneasy look to it – with new combinations, a few battling form and untested rookies. There is also a bench with an abundance of talent but less hard-nosed experience in the pressure cooker of test rugby.
It’s been said many, many times before but is this Wales’ chance?
The All Blacks squad:
1. Joe Moody (13) 2. Dane Coles (38) 3. Charlie Faumuina (35) 4. Brodie Retallick (49) 5. Samuel Whitelock (74) 6. Elliot Dixon (0) 7. Sam Cane (33) 8. Kieran Read – captain (86) 9. Aaron Smith (49) 10. Beauden Barrett (38) 11. Julian Savea (42) 12. Ryan Crotty (17) 13. George Moala (1) 14. Ben Smith (50) 15. Israel Dagg (50)
Bench: 16. Codie Taylor (4) 17. Wyatt Crockett (47) 18. Ofa Tu’ungafasi 19. Luke Romano (23) 20. Liam Squire (0) 21. Tawera Kerr-Barlow (20) 22. Lima Sopoaga (1)
23. Waisake Naholo (5)
Kaal Kaczmarek, Pundit Arena
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