Ryan Crotty gets first start for the All Blacks

LIAM NAPIER
Last updated 05:00 21/08/2014
Stuff.co.nz

Coach Steve Hansen has named Crusaders midfielder Ryan Crotty in the starting line-up to take on the Wallabies this Saturday night.

Ryan Crotty
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TALKING POINT: The fitness of Canterbury midfielder Ryan Crotty has come into focus after Ma'a Nonu's season-ending broken arm.

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From the fringe to centre stage, Ryan Crotty will start his first test for the All Blacks in Saturday's rematch with the Wallabies at Eden Park.

After seven cameos from the bench in the past 12 months, which included scoring the match-winning try against Ireland to seal last year's prefect season, Crotty now gets the chance to push his case in a big occasion. 

In the absence of injured second five-eighth Ma'a Nonu, the 25-year-old Cantabrian has been preferred over Malakai Fekitoa.

Widely regarded as a safe pair of hands - someone that won't let you down - Crotty will be keen to exceed such expectations up against Matt Toomua and Adam Ashley-Cooper and prove he belongs at this level. 

As expected, Conrad Smith also returns after missing last week's dour draw in Sydney due to the birth of his first son. The experienced centre will partner Crotty in a makeshift midfield combination which will rely on composure to compensate a potential lack of power and variety. 

While Fekitoa provides that explosive element, his lack of familiarity with the No 12 jersey has seen him relegated to the bench after covering for Smith in his natural role of centre last week.

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Nonu is expected to recover from his deep shoulder bruising to take on Argentina in Napier in two weeks, but the prognosis for Jerome Kanio is worse. The brutal blindside flanker will be sidelined for four to six weeks with an elbow complaint, which means he will probably miss two home tests against the Pumas and Springboks, placing him in doubt until the All Blacks' away section of the Rugby Championship in Argentina and South Africa.

His absence - a major blow from a physicality and intimidation point of view - opens the door for Liam Messam to return after a month-long break. After slipping behind Kaino in the pecking order the Chiefs co-captain will be fizzing for this prolonged opportunity to reassert his presence. Steven Luatua also remains in the reserves as cover for blindside and lock.

Other than those three injury-enforced changes, and Charlie Faumuina's return from illness to the bench at the expense of fellow prop Joe Moody, All Blacks coach Steve Hansen has given the rest of the squad a chance to atone for last week's error-riddled effort. That sees Israel Dagg excluded for a second occasion, while Wyatt Crockett, Cory Jane, in his 50th test, and Aaron Cruden will be among those wanting to lift their respective performances.

Improvements in decision-making, discipline and on attack have been demanded and it would be a major surprise if Hansen's men do not respond accordingly.

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"While we were disappointed with the draw last weekend, we are excited by the opportunity that presents itself this weekend. It's another test match against Australia, the chance to win the BledisloeCup and the first home test of the Rugby Championship in front of our home fans," Hansen said.

"We have been working hard on all aspects of our game this week and there's a definite resolve to improve the quality of our performance on Saturday."

The All Blacks are unbeaten at Eden Park for the last 20 years and haven't lost to the Wallabies there since 1986. Maintaining that record this week would also esnure they retain the coveted Bledisloe for an 11th straight year.

ALL BLACKS: Ben Smith, Cory Jane, Conrad Smith, Ryan Crotty, Julian Savea, Aaron Cruden, Aaron Smith, Kieran Read, Richie McCaw (c), Liam Messam, Sam Whitelock, Brodie Retallick, Owen Franks, Dane Coles, Wyatt Crockett. Reserves: Keven Mealamu, Ben Franks, Charlie Faumuina, Steven Luatua, Sam Cane, TJ Perenara, Beauden Barrett, Malakai Fekitoa 

- Stuff

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