CAPE TOWN (Reuters) - Coach Steve Hansen has underlined the All Blacks’ ruthless nature by arguably naming his strongest available team for their Rugby Championship finale against South Africa, with all of his rested players coming back into the starting side.
Hansen allowed four players — lock Sam Whitelock, flankers Sam Cane and Liam Squire and midfield back Ryan Crotty — to remain in New Zealand while he took a less experienced squad to Argentina last week, where they wrapped up the title.
Lock Brodie Retallick, who was also one of the players that missed the 36-10 victory in Buenos Aires, did not join the team in South Africa after his wife suffered a pregnancy loss.
Whitelock, Cane, Squire and Crotty all slotted back into the starting lineup for Saturday’s clash in Cape Town, with the team essentially the same one that destroyed the Springboks 57-0 in Auckland last month.
Scott Barrett, who came off the bench in Auckland and started last week in Buenos Aires, has replaced Retallick in the only change to the starting side.
Barrett’s older brother Beauden, who was originally supposed to be rested for the Buenos Aires game but was called in with Lima Sopoaga staying at home to attend the birth of his first child, will also start the game at flyhalf.
Sopoaga comes off the bench.
The decision to select his strongest available side highlighted Hansen’s desire for the team to continue to build on their performances.
Their level dropped off in the second half against the Pumas and was indicative of a season where the team has failed to sustain their performance for 80 minutes.
Hansen said he expected a backlash from the Springboks, who were heavily criticised by their fans after their record defeat at North Harbour Stadium.
“We’re looking to play a team that will be hurting incredibly, I would suggest, after Albany and we need to make sure that we meet that and continue on growing and developing ourselves,” Hansen told reporters in Cape Town.
“To do that you’ve got to play a good team.
“Whilst we’ve left some people out that people might’ve thought might have got a game, or we could’ve given someone else a rest, there’s a bigger picture and we know where we’re going with the rest and stuff.”
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-Scott Barrett, 4-Sam Whitelock, 3-Nepo Laulala, 2-Dane Coles, 1-Kane Hames
Replacements: 16-Codie Taylor, 17-Wyatt Crockett, 18-Ofa Tu’ungafasi, 19-Patrick Tuipulotu, 20-Matt Todd, 21-Tawera Kerr-Barlow, 22-Lima Sopoaga, 23-David Havili
Reporting by Greg Stutchbury in Wellington; Editing by Sudipto Ganguly