New Zealand name four new faces in its side to play next Bledisloe Cup clash.
The All Blacks have rejected suggestions they are taking the Wallabies lightly by making four changes for Saturday’s Test in Dunedin, including the rapid return of wing Cory Jane.
There is nothing but pride at stake in the match which falls outside the Rugby Championship — already won by the All Blacks — and the All Blacks cannot lose the Bledisloe Cup having beaten Australia in two of their three Tests this year.
After beating South Africa 38-27 in Johannesburg to clinch the Rugby Championship two weeks ago, the All Blacks have eased up on their usual hard-nosed approach to Test matches.
They did not assemble in Dunedin until Tuesday, limiting their training time despite bedding in new combinations, but coach Steve Hansen said that did not mean disrespect for the Wallabies.
“We respect the Australians immensely,” he said.
“But we understand that this match not only has the challenge of our opponent, but also one of the biggest challenges in sport, and that is backing up a great performance with another great performance.
“This is a challenge this team needs and will help define the progress we are making.”
Loose forward Liam Messam also emphasised the All Blacks were “really motivated” despite the Test being a dead rubber.
“We want to back up another great performance like we did in South Africa,” he said.
“We know it’s going to be a tough challenge and I guess when you play against the Wallabies in an All Black jumper there’s enough motivation there in itself. The boys are really motivated to back up a performance.”
The 30-year-old Jane, who has played just one-and-a-half games for his provincial side since severely damaging knee ligaments during pre-season training 10 months ago, will start on the right wing in place of Ben Smith.
Smith, one of the best finishers in the game, moves into the centres to cover for Conrad Smith, who has begun an extended break from the game.
In the forwards, Keven Mealamu starts at hooker, while lock Jeremy Thrush gets his first Test start.
The one change on the bench sees one-Test utility back Tom Taylor added to the squad.
“It’s great to have Cory Jane back. He has been a world-class performer and we are looking forward to seeing him back in the black jersey,” Hansen said, indicating the selection of the 44-Test wing was forced by the absence of Conrad Smith.
“It’s also exciting to have Ben Smith getting his first start at centre for the season.”
All Blacks (15-1) Israel Dagg; Cory Jane, Ben Smith, Ma’a Nonu, Julian Savea; Aaron Cruden, Aaron Smith; Kieran Read, Richie McCaw (captain), Liam Messam; Sam Whitelock, Jeremy Thrush; Charlie Faumuina, Keven Mealamu, Tony Woodcock.
Replacements: Dane Coles, Wyatt Crockett, Ben Franks, Brodie Retallick, Sam Cane, Tawera Kerr-Barlow, Beauden Barrett, Tom Taylor.