Has Steve Hansen got it right with his first All Blacks team?
If Ireland were hoping Steve Hansen's reign as All Blacks coach would start with a vulnerable new-look side, they will be disappointed by the one named today.
Three rookies in wing Julian Savea, halfback Aaron Smith and lock Brodie Retallick will be pitched into action at Eden Park on Saturday.
But any nervous apprehension is more than offset by the vast experience that intelligently wraps around the new caps and further insurance on the bench.
This was clearly not a side knocked out at short notice.
Savea's first test start was inevitable after a season in which the 21-year-old phenomenon has barely put a foot wrong, but the right wing was less certain.
The selection of Zac Guildford in the No 14 jersey ahead of Ben Smith suggests the All Blacks do not intend to be dictated to by the tourists' kicking game.
Guildford has had his troubles under the high ball before and there may have been thoughts of fielding Smith as a second fullback.
But then again, why would you not unleash two tryscoring wings with Dan Carter and Sonny Bill Williams in your backline? It is a positive statement.
The endless debate about halfback ends with Smith given the nod over Piri Weepu who takes his place on the bench with Ali Williams. The Blues duo is both out of form, but whatever your view, they provide 129 test caps between them if things go pear-shaped.
Similarly, Smith, the best passing halfback in recent history, plays between Kieran Read at No 8 and Carter at first five-eighth.
Williams' experience was not enough to deny the energy of young Chiefs lock Retallick, who adds energy and enthusiasm behind a grizzled front row.
Retallick will become the second youngest lock to wear the black jersey at just 21 years and nine days old, two days older than Mark Cooksley who made his debut in 1992.
It is the first glimpse of a player the All Blacks selectors will be hoping can fill the void created by the departure of Brad Thorn. It also hands the senior locking role to Sam Whitelock, a player whose recent form hints that he has accepted the challenge to step into that breach in past weeks.
In the other contentious area of selection, Victor Vito's physicality and athleticism in the lineout get the nod over Adam Thomson in what was probably a borderline call.
Keven Mealamu's calf is not quite ready for test match rugby with form rake Andrew Hore starting and late callup Hika Elliot named in the reserves.
There is also no place in the 22 for All Blacks veteran Ma'a Nonu after a disappointing Super Rugby season with the Blues.
In his 86th test Carter will achieve a statistical milestone in wearing the All Blacks No 10 jersey for the 71st time, surpassing Andrew Mehrtens.
Carter has also played tests at second five-eighth, but his recent form suggests he is far from done in his preferred spot and will be central to the reign of Hansen that looks, on paper, to be off to a promising and balanced start.
All Blacks: Israel Dagg, Zac Guildford, Conrad Smith, Sonny Bill Williams, Julian Savea, Dan Carter, Aaron Smith, Kieran Read, Richie McCaw (capt), Victor Vito, Sam Whitelock, Brodie Retallick, Owen Franks, Andrew Hore, Tony Woodcock. Reserves: Hika Elliot, Ben Franks, Ali Williams, Adam Thomson, Piri Weepu, Aaron Cruden, Ben Smith.
- © Fairfax NZ News
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