All Blacks coach Steve Hansen says the inclusion of utility forward Scott Barrett over regular openside flank Sam Cane is tactical and not based on form.
Barrett is set to start at blindside flank for the semi-final against England, with Ardie Savea switching to the openside. Cane drops to the bench in place of the injured Matt Todd.
Cane’s exclusion comes as a surprise as he has started 20 consecutive Tests since he last featured off the bench against Argentina in September 2017. When not injured, Cane has been a fixture in the All Blacks No 7 jersey since the retirement of former captain Richie McCaw at the conclusion of the 2015 World Cup.
Barrett’s selection over Cane effectively means the All Blacks will run out with three locks, which might indicate that Hansen’s men are set to target England at lineout time. The utility forward’s skills mean that the All Blacks won’t lose much when it comes to the breakdown, which is likely to be a key battle on Saturday.
When questioned about the reason for picking the versatile Barrett in the starting lineup ahead of the more experienced Cane, a reserved Hansen did not go into much detail about the selection.
‘I’m not going into too much depth about that because otherwise we’re giving Eddie [Jones] some information that he’ll probably be able to work out pretty quickly himself,’ said Hansen at Thursday’s team announcement.
‘Obviously, it’s strategic; it’s not on form. Sam Cane is playing lovely rugby.’
Lock Patrick Tuipulotu comes on to the bench because of Barrett’s elevation to the starting XV, with Hansen emphasising the important role that his ‘finishers’ will play during the do-or-die clash with England.
‘The bench is massive. It’s so important in today’s game,’ continued Hansen. ‘There is a thought process that the best players always start, but sometimes they don’t. Some are better finishers of the game than they are starters. You have to get your squad to understand that.’
‘Sammy [Cane] is in good form. But we have got a strategy that says we should pick Scott Barrett and bring Sam off the bench.’