All Blacks coach Steve Hansen has opted for a largely inexperienced and experimental side for the clash against Japan in Tokyo on Saturday.
Many of the frontline All Blacks have headed to Europe to prepare for the big clashes against England and Ireland. As a result, Hansen has made a host of changes with as many as eight new caps in the match 23.
Auckland openside flanker Dalton Papalii and Wellington centre Matt Proctor are the starting debutants, while prop Tyrel Lomax, loose forwards Gareth Evans and Dillon Hunt, scrumhalf Mitch Drummond, flyhalf Brett Cameron and wing George Bridge are the uncapped players on the bench.
No 8 Luke Whitelock will lead the All Blacks for the first time in a Test. Richie Mo’unga gets a rare chance to start at No 10 while scrumhalf Te Toiroa Tahuriorangi will receive just his second Test cap.
‘While this is a relatively inexperienced group, the expectation is that when you pull on the black jersey, a top performance is required,’ said Hansen. ‘It’s important that the players embrace the expectation and enjoy it.
‘We’re expecting Japan to play a high-tempo, hit-and-run game. We know their coaching staff very well and have a lot of respect for them. No doubt they’ll have a trick or two up their sleeve.’
All Blacks – 15 Jordie Barrett, 14 Nehe Milner-Skudder, 13 Matt Proctor, 12 Ngani Laumape, 11 Waisake Naholo, 10 Richie Mo’unga, 9 Te Toiroa Tahuriorangi, 8 Luke Whitelock (c), 7 Dalton Papalii, 6 Vaea Fifita, 5 Jackson Hemopo, 4 Patrick Tuipulotu, 3 Angus Ta’avao, 2 Dane Coles, 1 Ofa Tu’ungafasi.
Subs: 16 Liam Coltman, 17 Tim Perry, 18 Tyrel Lomax, 19 Dillon Hunt, 20 Gareth Evans, 21 Mitch Drummond, 22 Brett Cameron, 23 George Bridge.
Photo: Anthony Au-Yeung/Getty Images