AUCKLAND (Reuters) - Discarded All Blacks utility back Damian McKenzie will have a chance to showcase his talents at flyhalf when the Maori All Blacks play the British and Irish Lions in Rotorua on Saturday.
McKenzie, who played two tests for the All Blacks last year, was surprisingly overlooked for Steve Hansen’s main test squad for the Lions series starting June 24.
Usurped by the more versatile Jordie Barrett, the All Blacks staff said they would prefer to see McKenzie play more often at flyhalf as they seek a replacement for Aaron Cruden, who heads to France later this year.
“We’ve named a strong group who all have good clarity on how we want to play this match against the Lions,” Maori coach Colin Cooper said in a statement. “We feel Damian will suit the game plan that we want to play, from the number 10 position.”
With the match branded an unofficial fourth test, nine of the 23-man squad have played at least one All Blacks test.
Cooper also included winger Rieko Ioane and scrumhalf Tawera Kerr-Barlow in the starting side after they were released from the All Blacks squad for the match.
Akira Ioane, who was an injury cover player in Hansen’s squad, will start in a loose forward trio that includes 2015 World Cup winner Liam Messam and 2016 All Black Elliot Dixon.
In a powerful backline, winger Nehe Milner-Skudder has a chance to play himself back into the All Blacks after almost 16 months out with a shoulder injury and a broken foot.
The Maori, who were allowed to select all of their All Blacks players, beat the Lions 19-13 on the last tour in 2005.
Maori All Blacks: 15-James Lowe, 14-Nehe Milner-Skudder, 13-Matt Proctor, 12-Charlie Ngatai, 11-Rieko Ioane, 10-Damian McKenzie, 9-Tawera Kerr-Barlow, 8-Liam Messam, 7-Elliot Dixon, 6-Akira Ioane, 5-Tom Franklin, 4-Joe Wheeler, 3-Ben May, 2-Ash Dixon (captain), 1-Kane Hames.
Replacements: 16-Hikawera Elliot, 17-Chris Eves, 18-Marcel Renata, 19-Leighton Price, 20-Kara Pryor, 21-Bryn Hall, 22- Ihaia West, 23-Rob Thompson.
Editing by Ian Ransom