Smith back in All Blacks shake-up
THE All Blacks have undergone their second shake-up in as many weeks with seven changes for Saturday’s Test against South Africa including the recall of Aaron Smith.
Vaea Fifita, one of the standout performers in the scratchy 39-22 win over Argentina last week when he scored a rampaging try, cannot even make the bench for the fourth-round Rugby Championship encounter. But fly-half Beauden Barrett, the target of much criticism following the come-from-behind win over Los Pumas, retains his place.
The expectations are that he will be more settled with the return of his regular half-back partner Smith in the number nine jersey.
Coach Steve Hansen, who rates South Africa highly, believes the absence of Smith last week was one of the reasons why the backline, under playmaker Barrett, struggled to cope with Argentina’s rush defence.
“There’s a difference between the speed of ball when Aaron’s there so he will come back,” Hansen said.
With the exception of Nehe MilnerSkudder moving to the right wing in place of Ben Smith, it is the same All Blacks run-on side that narrowly beat Australia 35-29 three weeks ago.
Ryan Crotty returns at outside centre for the Test at Auckland’s North Harbour Stadium, with Rieko Ioane back on the left wing while Milner-Skudder moves to his more familiar right wing slot.
In the forwards, prop Kane Hames gets his first start in his third Test, in for the injured Joe Moody, while Brodie Retallick and Sam Whitelock are reunited in the second row. The more experienced Liam Squire regains the number six jersey at the expense of Fifita with Sam Cane on the open flank and Ardie Savea dropping to the bench.
The All Blacks are trying to perfect a high-paced, high-risk, high-reward game but apart from the first 50 minutes of their opening championship match against Australia the results have been inconsistent.
Hansen said the focus in the lead-up to playing the Springboks has been on “how we want to play” in the clash of the two unbeaten sides.
“We need the games we are getting at the moment, we’ve had a bit of adversity, and that will only make us better.”
In the first three rounds of the championship, the All Blacks have beaten Australia twice and Argentina.
The Springboks have beaten Argentina twice and drawn against Australia and Hansen said they would be tough opponents.
“They scrummage well, they attack well with the ball and their defence is getting better. So that’s basically the game,” he said.
“We know they’re a tough opponent. They’re always a tough opponent. There’s a long-standing history and rivalry between our two teams.
“We enjoy playing them, they play hard and it’s always competitive. But afterwards they’re always keen to catch up for a chat and a beer.”
The All Blacks and Springboks have played each other 93 times, with 55 wins to the All Blacks, 35 to South Africa and three draws.
Wallabies wary of Pumas
The Wallabies are looking to secure a first Rugby Championship win by making sure they close out the Test against Argentina on Saturday after some frustrating close shaves.
Australia led 20-10 in the second half against South Africa in Perth last week, only for the Springboks to snatch a 2323 draw.
It followed a heartbreaking 35-29 defeat to the All Blacks in Dunedin last month when the Australians relinquished a 17-point lead as New Zealand snatched the winning try with two minutes left.
Michael Cheika’s team have won only two of their six internationals this season and vice captain Will Genia said the Wallabies must find a way to cope with the pressure moments and push on to win.
“It’s about just handling those moments better because in the moment that’s when you are a little bit flustered,” the 81 Test-capped scrum-half said.
“We’ve just got to make sure that when we are presented with those tough moments in games, we respond how we want with clear minds as opposed to just being a little bit rattled.”
The Wallabies have made just one change to their starting XV with experienced lock Rob Simmons replacing Rory Arnold, who has missed out on this week’s matchday squad.
The Pumas have made four changes with Tomas Lezana, Martin Landajo, Ramiro Moyano and Matias Orlando named in the starting XV.
Lezana will start at No 8 in place of Benjamin Macone while Landajo replaces former ACT Brumbies scrum-half Tomas Cubelli.
Joaquin Tuculet and Santiago Cordero have made way for winger Moyano and outside centre Orlando, with Emiliano Boffelli to start at fullback.
New Zealand’s scrum-half Aaron Smith passes the ball during the Rugby Championship test match against Australia in Sydney on August 19.