AUCKLAND (Reuters) - Kane Hames has been given his first All Blacks start as coach Steve Hansen bolstered his side’s pack for their Rugby Championship match against South Africa on Saturday.
Hames has made two previous test appearances, both off the bench, against Australia and replaces Joe Moody who was ruled out for the rest of the season after dislocating his shoulder last week against Argentina.
Hansen also recalled Liam Squire and Sam Cane in the loose forwards and lock Sam Whitelock to bolster the pack against a resurgent Springboks team at North Harbour Stadium.
“They (South Africa) scrummage well, they attack well with the ball and their defence is getting better,” Hansen said in a statement on Thursday.
“So that’s basically the game. We know they’re a tough opponent, they’re always a tough opponent.”
Hansen, however, maintained a relatively small back three despite the likelihood the Springboks will test them with high kicks to put pressure on the world champions inside their own half.
Nehe Milner-Skudder shifts back to his preferred right wing in place of Israel Dagg, who had been struggling with a knee injury.
The equally diminutive Damian McKenzie has been given another run at fullback, although Hansen has opted to recall power winger Rieko Ioane to the number 11 jersey.
Ryan Crotty also returns at centre after missing last week’s 39-22 victory against the Pumas in New Plymouth, with Anton Lienert-Brown dropping to the bench.
Hansen had already signalled that scrumhalf Aaron Smith would return in an effort to speed up the All Blacks game.
He links again with flyhalf Beauden Barrett, who was criticised for a below-par performance last week.
Pundits had suggested Lima Sopoaga could get the start against the Springboks after he provided better goal kicking and took control of the game when he came on as a replacement, with Barrett shifting to fullback.
The All Blacks top the Rugby Championship table, after three straight victories, while South Africa are second having drawn to Australia last week following back-to-back wins over Argentina.
Team: 15-Damian McKenzie, 14-Nehe Milner-Skudder, 13-Ryan Crotty, 12-Sonny Bill Williams, 11-Rieko Ioane, 10-Beauden Barrett, 9-Aaron Smith, 8-Kieran Read (captain), 7-Sam Cane, 6-Liam Squire, 5-Sam Whitelock, 4-Brodie Retallick 3-Nepo Laulala, 2-Dane Coles, 1-Kane Hames.
Replacements: 16-Codie Taylor, 17-Wyatt Crockett, 18-Ofa Tu’ungafasi, 19-Scott Barrett, 20-Ardie Savea, 21-TJ Perenara, 22-Lima Sopoaga, 23-Anton Lienert-Brown.
Reporting by Greg Stutchbury; Editing by Neville Dalton and Toby Davis