June 20, 2018 / 7:29 PM / 3 months ago

McKenzie given start at flyhalf for All Blacks

WELLINGTON (Reuters) - Damian McKenzie will get his first start at flyhalf for the All Blacks in the third test against France in Dunedin on Saturday, with Richie Mo’unga named to make his debut from the bench.

Rugby Union - June Internationals - New Zealand vs France - Eden Park, Auckland, New Zealand - June 9, 2018 - New Zealand's Damian McKenzie scores a try as France's Kevin Gourdon tackles him. REUTERS/Ross Setford

Mo’unga is one of four debutants for the world champions, with loose forward Shannon Frizell and centre Jack Goodhue also due to start at Otago Regional Stadium while lock Jackson Hemopo has been named on the bench.

Regular flyhalf Beauden Barrett was not considered due to concussion symptoms following a heavy fall in the second test in Wellington.

Utility back McKenzie has played 14 tests for the All Blacks including 11 at fullback, but has expressed a desire to play more games at flyhalf.

Coach Steve Hansen said earlier that while McKenzie had not played as well as expected when he replaced Barrett in the second test, he was improving quickly and deserved an opportunity to start the game.

The All Blacks lurched to a 26-13 victory against a 14-man France last week in Wellington, which sealed the three-match series with a game to spare and Hansen said the final game was an ideal time to test new players.

“One of the aims of the ... series was to continue to build depth across our squad and give players opportunities,” he said in a statement. “Now that we have ... won the series, we think this is the right time to do that.”

Frizell has had a meteoric rise into the national side in a vastly changed loose forward trio after injury to Vaea Fifita and Liam Squire had forced Hansen’s hand.

Hemopo was also not even in the original 33-man squad and was only brought into the side this week with Fifita’s injury.

Sonny Bill Williams, initially ruled out of the series due to knee surgery, has made a surprise return and will partner Goodhue in midfield.

Hansen also juggled his back three with Waisake Naholo making his first appearance of the series while Ben Smith has moved from right wing to his preferred fullback position.

Team: 15-Ben Smith, 14-Waisake Naholo, 13-Jack Goodhue, 12-Sonny Bill Williams, 11-Rieko Ioane, 10-Damian McKenzie, 9-Aaron Smith, 8-Luke Whitelock, 7-Ardie Savea, 6-Shannon Frizell, 5-Scott Barrett, 4-Sam Whitelock (captain), 3-Owen Franks, 2-Codie Taylor, 1-Joe Moody.

Replacements: 16-Liam Coltman, 17-Karl Tu’inukuafe, 18-Ofa Tuungafasi, 19-Jackson Hemopo, 20-Matt Todd, 21-TJ Perenara, 22-Richie Mo’unga, 23-Jordie Barrett

Reporting by Greg Stutchbury; editing by John Stonestreet

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