Cruden starting, Kaino confident on return

TOBY ROBSON
Last updated 05:00 05/06/2014
stuff.co.nz

All Blacks coach Steve Hansen and No 8 Jerome Kaino offer their thoughts ahead of the first test against England.

Steve Hansen
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FIRST HIT OUT: All Blacks coach Steve Hansen has named his team for this weekend's test with England at Eden Park.

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Steve Hansen could never be accused of being a conservative.

The All Blacks coach has struck a balance between future and present in naming three new caps on the reserves bench to play England at Eden Park on Saturday.

Centre Malakai Fekitoa, lock Patrick Tuipulotu and halfback TJ Perenara have all been named in the 23-man squad for the first test of the international season.

A largely predictable starting fifteen features the return of Jerome Kaino at No 8, the selection of Aaron Cruden at first five-eighth, and the absence of big wing Julian Savea, whose knee injury has ruled him out.

Hansen has resisted the urge to go with form Hurricanes No 10 Beauden Barrett, a sensible decision considering a run of injuries that's ruled out loose forwards Kieran Read (concussion) and Sam Cane (knee), as well as Savea.

Cruden, in his 28th test, gets the nod despite limited game time after a long stint out with a broken thumb and on the back of a rusty match and a half for the Chiefs in recent weeks.

He will oversee a backline that has seen Cory Jane selected on the unfamiliar left wing, leaving Ben Smith in his preferred No 14 jersey.

Kaino is set to complete a remarkable return to New Zealand rugby after two years in Japan. It will be the 31-year-old's first test appearance since the 2011 Rugby World Cup final win over France.

Kaino has seamlessly moved from blindside to No 8, a position he may well have sealed with his dominant display for the Blues against the Hurricanes last Saturday.

His Hurricanes opposite that night, Victor Vito, is set to complete a comeback of his own after being named in the reserves nearly a year after being dropped from the test side.

The other feature of the pack is the continuation of hooker Dane Coles at hooker with veteran Keven Mealamu's 109 test caps balancing out an otherwise inexperienced reserves bench.

Hansen's side show a healthy respect for an England side widely tipped to be under strength for the opening test of a three match series for the Hillary Shield.

However, in Perenara, 22, Tuipulotu, 21, and Fekitoa, 22, he has left room for a peek into the future.

All three will be champing at the bit. Fekitoa has been the Highlanders' form back and will presumably see time at centre in the second half as the search for veteran Conrad Smith's successor takes another step.

Perenara's selection ahead of Chiefs No 9 Tawera Kerr-Barlow, edges him closer to a test cap that's been dangled in front of him since he was first named in an All Blacks squad for last year's Rugby Championship.

After going away on the end of year tour, the Hurricanes halfback remained uncapped even after sitting on the bench for the final test against Ireland.

Tuipulotu completes the trio, the massive Blues lock selected ahead of another giant in Crusaders second row Dominic Bird.

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All Blacks: Israel Dagg, Ben Smith, Conrad Smith, Ma'a Nonu, Cory Jane, Aaron Cruden, Aaron Smith, Jerome Kaino, Richie McCaw (c), Liam Messam, Sam Whitelock, Brodie Retallick, Owen Franks, Dane Coles, Tony Woodcock. Reserves: Keven Mealamu, Wyatt Crockett, Charlie Faumuina, Patrick Tuipulotu, Victor Vito, TJ Perenara, Beauden Barrett, Malakai Fekitoa.

- Stuff

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