TOKYO (Reuters) - Utility back Jordie Barrett was told on Thursday that he would make his first appearance at flyhalf for the All Blacks against Namibia in Sunday’s Rugby World Cup Pool B clash in Tokyo, with his first training run there on Friday, coach Steve Hansen said.
Barrett was one of 12 changes made by Hansen for the clash with Namibia as the team faced its first short turnaround of the World Cup, having played Canada in Oita on Wednesday.
Brodie Retallick also returned from a dislocated shoulder to rejoin locking partner Sam Whitelock, who will captain the side in the absence of the rested Kieran Read.
Barrett’s selection at flyhalf, however, was not a major surprise, given Hansen said prior to the tournament there was a likelihood that his utility backs could play the pivotal role in pool games against the tier-two nations.
Hansen chose just two specialist flyhalves in his World Cup squad in Richie Mo’unga and Beauden Barrett, who has been playing fullback in a dual playmaker game plan with Mo’unga wearing the number 10 jersey.
“He has played there before at a lower level,” Hansen told reporters at the team hotel in Tokyo of the reason why he selected Jordie to play the pivotal role.
“He has got the skillsets we believe to be able to run the game and the confidence and the skillset to be able to execute as well as run it.
“We’re reasonably confident he will be fine.”
Hansen added he had told Barrett he would play flyhalf on Thursday.
“He said ‘oh that’s exciting’, I said ‘it is’,” Hansen said.
“(But) he has been doing a lot of what we have been doing at training anyway but he has not necessarily run at 10 prior to this morning.”
Retallick dislocated his shoulder against the Springboks in July and suffered nerve damage that he thought could keep him out of the tournament altogether.
The 2014 World Player of the Year, however, was selected in the squad on the expectation that he would be available for the knockout stage of the tournament, although the lock said he had hoped to be back for the last pool game against Italy.
“It’s exciting to have the big fella back,” Hansen said.
“You go back to the night it happened and there was a bit of despair. Then we found out it wasn’t one of those dislocations that would require an operation and there was more hope.
“As he has trained he has got better and the guys have got more excited, none more so than the coach.”
Team: 15-Ben Smith, 14-Sevu Reece, 13-Jack Goodhue, 12-Anton Lienert-Brown, 11-George Bridge, 10-Jordie Barrett, 9-Aaron Smith, 8-Ardie Savea, 7-Sam Cane, 6-Shannon Frizell, 5-Sam Whitelock (captain), 4-Brodie Retallick, 3-Nepo Laulala, 2-Codie Taylor, 1-Joe Moody
Replacements: 16-Dane Coles, 17-Ofa Tuungafasi, 18-Angus Ta’avao, 19-Patrick Tuipulotu, 20-Matt Todd, 21-Brad Weber, 22-TJ Perenara, 23-Rieko Ioane
Reporting by Greg Stutchbury; Editing by Amlan Chakraborty