BUENOS AIRES (Reuters) - Rookie loose forward Liam Squire will make his first test start as All Blacks coach Steve Hansen reinstated his policy of developing depth for the Rugby Championship clash with Argentina in Buenos Aires on Saturday.
Squire, who has made three test appearances from the bench, replaces the injured Jerome Kaino at blindside flanker for the match at Estadio Jose Amalfitani, with Patrick Tuipulotu also coming into the starting side in place of Sam Whitelock.
The All Blacks have already wrapped up this year’s title after four successive wins with a settled selection policy but Hansen wants to give fringe players more opportunities to help develop depth ahead of next year’s British and Irish Lions tour.
“Our key focus was to select a team that would maintain a high standard of performance and also allow us to grow our player depth and experience in the test arena,” Hansen said of the changes to the side who beat South Africa 41-13 in Christchurch.
”We also took into consideration the fact that we have seven tests under our belts this year and more tests and a lot of international travel to come.
“The expectation is that this side will build on the performances we’ve produced so far this year.”
Rookie Anton Lienert-Brown replaces Malakai Fekitoa at centre, while scrumhalf TJ Perenara gets a start ahead of Aaron Smith.
Apart from the four changes to the starting side, Hansen made five more to the bench with prop Ofa Tu‘ungafasi coming in for Charlie Faumuina and flanker Elliot Dixon replacing Matt Todd.
Luke Romano has dropped out of the matchday 23 to make way for Whitelock, who could still become the highest-capped All Blacks lock on Saturday should he earn his 80th cap.
Tawera Kerr-Barlow has also come in to the squad for Perenara, while utility Damian McKenzie could make his test debut as he covers the outside backs from the bench.
”This weekend presents a massive challenge for us,“ Hansen added. ”Argentina are a very good team and we have a huge amount of respect for them.
“They put us under real pressure at times during the test in Hamilton (the Pumas trailed by two points with 30 minutes remaining in a 57-22 defeat) and we’ve worked really hard this week to prepare for what we expect to be coming.”
Team: 15-Ben Smith, 14-Israel Dagg, 13-Anton Lienert-Brown, 12-Ryan Crotty, 11-Julian Savea, 10-Beauden Barrett, 9-TJ Perenara, 8-Kieran Read (captain), 7-Ardie Savea, 6-Liam Squire, 5-Brodie Retallick, 4-Patrick Tuipulotu, 3-Owen Franks, 2-Dane Coles, 1-Joe Moody.
Replacements: 16-Codie Taylor, 17-Wyatt Crockett, 18-Ofa Tu‘ungafasi, 19-Sam Whitelock, 20-Elliot Dixon, 21-Tawera Kerr-Barlow, 22-Lima Sopoaga, 23-Damian McKenzie.
Reporting by Greg Stutchbury in Wellington; Editing by John O'Brien