Powerhouse wing Leicester Fainga’anuku will make his All Blacks debut after being named in the side to start against Ireland at Eden Park on Saturday.
Crusaders standout Fainga’anuku will start on the left wing while another uncapped player, bruising Chiefs forward Pita Gus Sowakula, is on the bench.
Scrum guru Greg Feek was confirmed as the fourth member of the coaching staff to test positive for coronavirus and head coach Ian Foster conceded the disrupted buildup had not been ideal.
“It is what it is,” Foster said as he named his side to face Ireland via video link, adding he should be clear to rejoin the team on Saturday.
“We’re excited with the team we’re putting out there and [mandatory isolation] doesn’t change that there’s a statement that we want to make on the first Test of the year.”
One surprise in the All Blacks side was the selection of lock Scott Barrett at blindside flank, although Foster said that was forced to a degree by injury niggles to Akira Ioane and Dalton Papalii.
Barrett’s last start in the unfamiliar role came in the 2019 World Cup semi-final loss to England.
He was replaced at half time, leading to widespread criticism of the coaching team for a tactical selection blunder.
“I don’t spend too long thinking about the 2019 game,” Foster said.
“This one, we’re very clear about the strategy. We’ve talked to Scott about this possibility. He’s bringing a bruising defence and a ball-carrying art to his game now.
“He’s probably our most dynamic lock ball-carrier at the moment, so we can probably utilise that a little bit at six.”
A knee injury also ruled out first-choice tighthead prop Nepo Laulala, replaced by Blues teammate Ofa Tuungafasi.
Fainga’anuku has benefited from the unavailability of his Crusaders teammate Will Jordan, who was one of three players forced into isolation after returning positive tests, along with Jack Goodhue and David Havili.
The 22-year-old lacks the raw pace of Jordan but makes up for it with power that enables him to bust tackles or get over the advantage line.
Uncapped Blues wing Mark Telea joined the squad on Thursday as cover for Jordan, who tested positive later than the other players and is likely to be unavailable for the second Test in Dunedin.
Hurricanes prop Tyrel Lomax was also called in, as cover for Laulala.
Veteran flyhalf Beauden Barrett said there were positives to take from the week.
“It’s been a great opportunity to become more connected than previous years,” he said.
“We’ve been forced as players to lead a little bit more early on in the week, which has been great. It’s allowed us to step up and take control, when the coaches would normally have more influence.”
Feek’s absence will be keenly felt, having coached the Irish forwards and provincial side Leinster. His role will be filled by the team’s former scrum coach, Mike Cron.
Ireland opened their tour on Wednesday night with a 32-17 defeat by the Maori All Blacks in Hamilton.
New Zealand – 15 Jordie Barrett, 14 Sevu Reece, 13 Reiko Ioane, 12 Quinn Tupaea, 11 Leicester Fainga’anuku, 10 Beauden Barrett, 9 Aaron Smith, 8 Ardie Savea, 7 Sam Cane (c), 6 Scott Barrett, 5 Sam Whitelock, 4 Brodie Retallick, 3 Ofa Tuungafasi, 2 Codie Taylor, 1 George Bower.
Subs: 16 Samisoni Taukei’aho, 17 Karl Tu’inukuafe, 18 Angus Ta’avao, 19 Pita Gus Sowakula, 20 Dalton Papalii, 21 Finlay Christie, 22 Richie Mo’unga, 23 Braydon Ennor.
Photo: Hannah Peters/Getty Images