Aaron Smith's All Blacks career has hit its first hurdle after being dropped for Saturday night's test against the Springboks in Dunedin.
Smith has been one of the shining lights of the All Blacks campaign this year but he has lost his place in the starting team to Piri Weepu.
The Blues halfback was outstanding when he came on to replace Smith against Argentina in Wellington last weekend, although he did have the benefit of playing in better conditions and at a time when the All Blacks forwards were dominating the game.
Smith has started the other six All Blacks tests this year, his total game time is 386 minutes, while Weepu has played just 94 minutes. But for this weekend at least, Smith will have to be content as Weepu’s understudy.
Throughout Steve Hansen’s short tenure as All Blacks coach he has shown little interest in player rotation.
If he did, there would have been wholesale changes to the team for the Argentina test last weekend.
So because of this, it can be read that these changes are once again based on form issues, rather than giving players a break.
The dropping of Smith is one of four adjustments to the starting team for the All Blacks’ fourth test of the inaugural Rugby Championships.
Sam Whitelock has been given a recall to the second row, replacing Brodie Retallick.
Ahead of the test in Wellington, Hansen said he didn’t feel Whitelock was playing as well as Retallick and Romano, so the Chiefs lock must have paid the price for an ordinary performance against Los Pumas.
In the front row, hooker Andrew Hore gets the chance to start a test at his franchise’s home ground, taking Keven Mealamu’s place.
Not surprisingly Victor Vito has dropped out of the run on XV, to be replaced by Liam Messam.
The Chiefs co-captain was superb at the Cake Tin and Hansen admitted Messam is the leading blindside flanker right now.
Vito slips to the bench, meaning that Adam Thomson has again failed to make the 22.
Thomson would have been seen as the joint favourite - along with Vito - to be the long term replacement for Jerome Kaino in the No 6 jersey.
The fact that he is being continually overlooked suggests he has completely fallen out of favour with the selectors and again brings into question why there are six loose forwards in the squad and just three locks.
Coincidentally, another player who is considering joining the Blues next year, Ben Franks, has also been frozen out of the 22 again.
For the second test in a row Franks loses out to Charlie Faumuina as the prop on the bench to cover loosehead and tighthead.
Another change to the reserves sees Tamati Ellison taking Ben Smith’s spot.
Ellison is the player who’s been used most sparingly in the All Blacks this season, playing just 29 minutes of rugby against Ireland in Hamilton.
Incredibly, there are just three players in the starting team for this weekend’s test that were also in the run-on side when the All Blacks last played the Springboks, in Port Elizabeth last August.
Those players are Israel Dagg, Messam (who played No 8) and Tony Woodcock.
ALL BLACKS: Israel Dagg, Cory Jane, Conrad Smith, Ma'a Nonu, Julian Savea, Aaron Cruden, Piri Weepu, Kieran Read, Richie McCaw (c), Liam Messam, Sam Whitelock, Luke Romano, Owen Franks, Andrew Hore, Tony Woodcock. Reserves: Keven Mealamu, Charlie Faumuina, Brodie Retallick, Victor Vito, Aaron Smith, Beauden Barrett, Tamati Ellison.
SPRINGBOKS: Zane Kirchner, Bryan Habana, Jean de Villiers (c), Frans Steyn, Francois Hougaard, Morne Steyn, Ruan Pienaar, Duane Vermeulen, Willem Alberts, Francois Louw, Juandre Kruger, Flip van der Merwe, Jannie du Plessis, Adriaan Strauss, Tendai Mtawarira. Reserves: Tiaan Liebenberg, Dean Greyling, Andries Bekker, Marcell Coetzee, Johan Goosen, Juan de Jongh, Patrick Lambie.
- © Fairfax NZ News
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