RICHIE MCCAW WILL become the most capped player in test history this Saturday, when he lines out for the All Blacks for the 142nd time, passing the record Brian O’Driscoll set in 2014.
McCaw starts at openside flanker, as Steve Hansen makes three changes for the Bledisloe Cup rematch against Australia in Auckland this weekend.
Victor Vito will be in the six jersey on Saturday with Sam Whitelock restored at lock while in the backs Ma’a Nonu returns for the injured Sonny Bill Williams.
Teaming the athletic Vito with Richie McCaw should bolster the All Blacks’ speed to the collision area where they were soundly beaten by Australia’s terriers David Pocock and Michael Hooper in the Rugby Championship decider.
Whitelock returns as the senior lock to give more drive over the ball as the All Blacks fight to retain the Bledisloe Cup which Australia last held in 2002.
Apart from sharpening that area, coach Steve Hansen has backed the notion that the bulk of his side beaten 27-19 last weekend deserve a shot at redemption.
But he has made clear there needs to be a commanding performance in the All Blacks’ last home game before the World Cup.
“We know we have to be smarter, more accurate and bring more intensity right across the park.”
More will be expected of halves Aaron Smith and Dan Carter after the All Blacks’ backline struggled to fire last week.
Part of the problem was predictable moves of heavyweight forwards stationed in the midfield and it remains to be seen if that plan will persevere.
The inclusion of Vito at the expense of hardman Jerome Kaino should give the All Blacks better presence at the breakdown.
Jerome Kanio drops to the bench. Source: David Davies
It is a straight swap of Kaino’s power for the mobility of Vito whose all-round skills stem from his days as a formidable sevens player where he was touted as the next Jonah Lomu.
Kaino is included on a rejigged reserves bench where Keven Mealamu and Wyatt Crockett replace Codie Taylor and Ben Franks, while Colin Slade comes in for Beauden Barrett.
The starting front row remains unchanged though, despite the difficulties Steve Hansen’s side had at the set piece, as Tony Woodcock struggled under the pressure of Sekope Kepu, while Owen Franks continues at tighthead prop.
New Zealand (v Australia)
15. Ben Smith
14. Nehe Milner-Skudder
13. Conrad Smith
12. Ma’a Nonu
11. Julian Savea
10. Dan Carter
9. Aaron Smith
1. Tony Woodcock
2. Dane Coles
3, Owen Franks
4, Brodie Ratallick
5. Sam Whitelock
6. Victor Vito
7. Richie McCaw (Captain)
8. Kieran Read
16. Kevin Mealamu
17. Wyatt Crockett
18. Neop Lualala
19. Jerome Kaino
20. Sam Cane
21. TJ Perenara
22. Colin Slade
23. Malakai Fekitoa
– © AFP 2015
Additional reporting by Neil Treacy
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