All Blacks coach Ian Foster has made wholesale changes to his starting lineup to face “wounded beast” Argentina in Brisbane on Saturday, including a rare start at flyhalf for Damian McKenzie.
Only three of the starting side that thrashed Los Pumas 39-0 this past Sunday will begin the Rugby Championship fourth-round clash as Foster juggles an intense schedule.
“With five Tests in a row and a six-day turnaround between these two Argentinian Tests, we were always going to make some selection changes – five Tests in a row demanded that,” he said.
“But the good thing is that we have a group that has been focusing on the same opposition for the last two weeks, so our preparation time hasn’t been compromised.”
Normally preferred at fullback, McKenzie has started only one of his previous 34 Tests at flyhalf.
But Foster was confident the 26-year-old would slot into the playmaker role he regularly fills for the Waikato Chiefs, allowing him to give Beauden Barrett a spell on the bench.
“He’s trained a lot there, he’s filled in at times … he played 35 minutes last week and he has a clear understanding of his role,” the coach said.
“It’s a vote of confidence in where we think he’s at.”
Scrumhalf TJ Perenara, fullback Jordie Barrett and wing George Bridge are the trio who will start for the second Test in succession.
Ardie Savea returns to the back row and will wear the captain’s armband as part of a totally revamped pack that includes veteran prop Joe Moody in his first start of the year after foot surgery.
Some first-choice players such as Brodie Retallick have no doubt been rested to keep them fresh for upcoming fixtures against the world champion Springboks.
But Foster said it also allowed him to build squad depth by giving some of his less experienced players a run.
“I think it’s a smart thing to do, to give opportunity to a wider group of people, but people have to earn that,” he said.
“The fact that people are training well and contributing has given us confidence to give them a crack.”
He predicted a fierce backlash from Los Pumas to their scoreboard shutout in the last Test.
“We are expecting a huge response from Argentina and we have to make sure we are prepared for that because we know what a wounded beast is like,” he said.
“If we go into this Test match thinking it’s just going to happen for us like last week without earning the right to have the scoreboard in our favour, then we’re in trouble.”
New Zealand (15-1) – Jordie Barrett, Will Jordan, Rieko Ioane, Quinn Tupaea, George Bridge, Damien McKenzie, TJ Perenara, Hoskins Sotutu, Ardie Savea (c), Ethan Blackadder; Tupou Vaa’i, Patrick Tuipulotu; Tyrel Lomax, Samisoni Taukei’aho, Joe Moody.
Subs: Codie Taylor, George Bower, Ofa Tuungafasi, Scott Barrett, Luke Jacobson, Finlay Christie, Beauden Barrett, Braydon Ennor.
© Agence France-Presse