All Blacks head coach Ian Foster has restored his full-strength lineup for Saturday’s 100th rugby test against South Africa, making eight changes to the mainly second-string starting 15 he fielded against Argentina last week.
Foster was able to take advantage of his squad’s depth to rest most of his frontline players and still come away with a 36-13 win over the Pumas which left the All Blacks unbeaten after four matches in the Rugby Championship.
His top 15 now returns fresh for Saturday’s historic match at Townsville, Australia, which will likely decide the Championship title.
“The whole team is excited at what lies ahead this weekend,” Foster said. “The group is working hard, we have been building our performances and we’ve put ourselves in a great position to win the Rugby Championship and that’s really exciting for the team. The fact that it is against South Africa is pretty special.”
Beauden Barrett returns at flyhalf on Saturday, fully recovered from a slight calf muscle twinge to lead the talented All Blacks backline. Center Anton Lienert-Brown has not yet recovered from a hamstring strain, meaning Rieko Ioane will start again at center, combining in midfield with David Havili.
Foster had a number of in-form wingers to choose from and opted for George Bridge on the left wing and the prolific try-scorer Will Jordan on the right. Jordan has scored 11 tries in eight tests to date.
T.J. Perenara will start at scrumhalf ahead of Brad Weber in one of the most close calls Foster has had to make. Perenara provides a physical option in contrast to Weber’s speedier delivery.
In choosing his backline, Foster has had to pay some attention to competence under the high ball as the Springboks will likely continue to use kicking as their primary tactic on Saturday.
Foster used an all-new forward pack against Argentina last weekend and has now recalled his first-choice pack with 52-test veteran Joe Moody restored to looshead prop. Moody played both matches against the Pumas, the first off the bench and the second in the starting XV, after previously being sidelined with a foot injury.
Ardie Savea will captain the All Blacks again, this time from the openside flank, with Luke Jacobson at No. 8 and Akira Ioane on the blindside. Brodie Retallick and Scott Barrett will combine in the second row.
“It’s a tough pack to pick at the moment because there are a lot of players putting their hands up and there were some players who played well last week,” Foster said. “It’s great to have experienced players like Joe Moody, Ofa Tuungafasi and Patrick Tuipulotu back. It has given us a great starting pack and a strong bench.”
Foster’s selection likely sets up a stark contrast in styles between the All Blacks and Springboks. The team named Thursday is equipped to play a fast-paced style while the Springboks will continue to pursue their slow and deliberate game plan, accentuating kicking and mauling but with little backline adventure.
“For us, as a team, we’re trying to zone in on what we want to do in this game,” Foster said. “We are all aware of the history and legacy of this match and respect that. But the only way we can do justice to that is to prepare well and focus on what we have to do.”
South Africa coach Jacques Nienaber opted for experience in naming his lineup on Wednesday.
Nienaber recalled the veteran trio of Lood de Jager, Elton Jantjies and Frans Steyn as the Springboks look to recover from two losses in a row to Australia. In total he has made five changes to the match-day squad with Trevor Nyakane named at loosehead prop for his 50th test.
New Zealand: Jordie Barrett, Will Jordan, Rieko Ioane, David Havili, George Bridge, Beauden Barrett, T.J. Perenara; Luke Jacobson, Ardie Savea (captain), Akira Ioane, Scott Barrett, Brodie Retallick, Nepo Laulala, Codie Taylor, Joe Moody. Reserves: Samisoni Taukei’aho, Karl Tu’inukuafe, Ofa Tuungafasi, Patrick Tuipulotu, Ethan Blackadder, Brad Weber, Damian McKenzie, Quinn Tupaea.
South Africa: Willie le Roux; Sbu Nkosi, Lukhanyo Am, Damian de Allende, Makazole Mapimpi; Handre Pollard, Faf de Klerk; Duane Vermeulen, Kwagga Smith, Siya Kolisi (captain); Lood de Jager, Eben Etzebeth; Frans Malherbe, Bongi Mbonambi, Trevor Nyakane. Reserves: Malcolm Marx, Steven Kitshoff, Vincent Koch, Franco Mostert, Marco van Staden, Herschel Jantjies, Elton Jantjies, Frans Steyn.
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